By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published October 29, 2020
CLEVELAND—Not too far from a hardware store and veterinary hospital in the north Georgia mountain town of Cleveland sits the I See U Ministries Thrift Store. Money raised at the store helps the poor living in White County.
People seeking help can complete applications at the store. Donations of gently used clothes and household items can be dropped off during open hours, which are weekend afternoons. The store is run by volunteers, who are mostly Catholic.
“The whole goal of this mission is just to let people know that have given up hope and that are lost that there are people who care, that there’s a God that cares, that their life matters, that they’re not invisible,” said Amy Bobenhausen, founder and director of I See U Ministries. She is a parishioner at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Cleveland.
The ministry became official in March. So far, it has helped people receive food and pay for utility bills and prescriptions. The ministry helped someone purchase a used car as lack of transportation is often a barrier to employment.
Bobenhausen previously worked with Family Promise, which provides solutions for homeless families. Realizing there were additional, unmet needs, Bobenhausen created the ministry and continues to work with neighboring churches and charities, including Family Promise, Hands and Feet, Cleveland Care Center and Circle of Hope.
I See U Ministries assists charities with people they are unable to serve and picks up those who fall in the gaps, said Bobenhausen. The ministry has an established board of directors.
Poverty in a pandemic
One night, a group of volunteers, including Bobenhausen, traveled around town to count the number of people living on the streets. They counted 98, after going around and talking to people behind groceries stores and other major retailers.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, more than 13% of the Georgia population lives in poverty. In White County, those in poverty are more than 14%.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to push 88-115 million people into extreme poverty this year, rising to as many as 150 million people in 2021 globally, according to The World Bank.
Many people believe Cleveland is a retirement community, but there are homeless people living in the woods, said Bobenhausen. She said many people struggle with a loss of identity, because so many people look away when they see them on the street. They need someone to minister to them, she said.
Filling an immediate need for the homeless sleeping in the woods, I See U Ministries is purchasing tents, sleeping bags and jackets and putting together small hygiene kits. The ministry also plans to help neighborhood charities during the holiday season.
Future plans include a shelter, warming center for the winter and a food truck.
Bobenhausen is grateful for the community support, including from her fellow parishioners, who have been helping from the start.
“It’s God’s ministry, said Bobenhausen. “You say ‘yes’ to God, and then you just kind of sit back and watch him work.”