Judy Thomas was in the parking lot at Lowes in Clarksville, Tennessee, when a little boy — maybe 8 or 9-years-old — came over to her car. She could see the boy’s mother standing nearby with a stroller and an infant, talking to someone else in another car. The family was obviously in distress and looking for help from kind strangers.
While the mother was distracted with the other person, the little boy took it upon himself to come talk to Judy.
And, boy, did he pick the right stranger to approach! Judy is always ready for this exact situation. She pulled out one of the blessing bags she packs to keep in her car and handed it to him.
Each bag is packed with non-perishable snacks, water, little toiletries and other things homeless or stranded people might need. She also tucks $5 in each bag before she prays over the bags and puts them in her car. The boy tore into his bag, digging to the bottom for what Judy thought was surely the green bill he must have seen peeking out. Instead, he went straight for the Vienna sausages and opened the can. He was starving, and he scarfed down every bite of the potted meat.
Judy handed two other bags to the mother — one for her and one for the baby.
It’s part of Judy’s drive-by ministry, a program she started as part of the Love Foundation in 2015. The Love Foundation is the umbrella organization for seven smaller ministries covering everything from back-to-school packs for children to visiting hours with the elderly in nursing homes.
From Fasting to Food
In 2015, Judy’s church went through a group fast. Judy ate nothing but cereal during the week, and that was only so she could take some medicine. Judy and her husband, Buford, were a retired military family who had moved all over the world, but by 2015 they had settled down in Huntsville.
“I was praying and asking God what I should do, where I should be in my life, and throughout that one-month fast God just, you know, led me to start the Love Foundation,” Judy said.
Judy credits God with everything from the idea to the name of the new nonprofit. When she went to an accountant to get the paperwork set up, he was sure she wouldn’t get the rights to such a common name. The Love Foundation? Surely someone else had set that up before now. But Judy knew better. She knew if God called her to this mission and this name, He would provide a way.
“(The accountant) ran back in to the room and said, ‘You got it,’ ” Judy said. “I was like, ‘I told you; God said it.’ ”
She says that last part with a matter-of-fact tone that makes you realize she never doubted the power of the Almighty in His charity-naming efforts.
Fasting has long since been used for people to grow closer to God, so it’s not unusual for Christians to stop eating for a period to reflect on their faith. For Judy, the experience was revelatory. Like many newly retired people, Judy was at a time in her life when she needed some guidance, and that’s exactly what she got.
“Just being still and listening to God, He really does speak to us. We’re just moving so fast in this world today that we’re not hearing him,” Judy said. “In that month of just being in His presence, fasting and praying … it was just being in His presence and listening. When you listen, He directs you.”
Ironically enough, it was going without food that made Judy realize her calling was to feed others.
As part of the Love Foundation, Judy developed a drive-by ministry where she hands food and other goodies out to homeless people. While all the ministries are important, this is the one Judy loves the most. It gives her the chance to talk to people, pray with them, and give them a little something special they might need that day.
In addition to water, Vienna sausages and $5, the bags also contain anything from tea bags to Chapstick and any other small items Judy can get her hands on.
“Why I say drive-by is because sometimes the traffic is so heavy that I can’t stop and actually talk to the person, so I literally toss it out the window,” Judy said.
She has countless stories of people she has met handing out bags — everyone from women going through hard divorces to wounded veterans. Once Judy spotted a man in a wheelchair on top of a steep hill outside a Cracker Barrel, but the hill didn’t faze her. She ran up there to see if he was okay.
At first, Judy’s family and friends were concerned for her safety because she approaches strangers out on the streets, but now they know she’s going to go see whomever she wants. There’s no stopping her when she’s on a mission for the Love Foundation.
“That’s not even in my mind — danger — because I know God is protecting me,” Judy said.
You can tell Judy is passionate about helping people when she tells story after story of people on the streets. She bonded with one man over a TV preacher they both love. Another young woman was out on the street in the fetal position, curled up in a ball. That story gets Judy choked up, and she has to take a minute to fight back tears.
“It’s not big, what we do, but it is. Because it’s all coming from God, and God can take a little bit of nothing and make something big out of it,” Judy said.
All Because of Jesus
The Love Foundation sends a team of volunteers to area nursing homes to visit with the sick and elderly and volunteers even take gifts around the holidays. Another team gets school supplies and Christmas presents to the kids at the Boys and Girls Club. There’s even a part of the Love Foundation that reaches out to people who have been impacted by hurricanes, tornadoes and floods and gets them toilet paper and anything else they might need.
That’s the thing about the Love Foundation: Judy isn’t concerned with giving things that are glamorous. When the Holy Spirit tells her to donate toilet paper and feminine products, she follows orders and finds a way.
Let’s face it, it would take a burning bush in the middle of Kroger to get most of the male population thinking about women who might need feminine products donated.
Oh, and one more thing. As if Love Foundation didn’t keep her busy enough, Judy has her text ministry. Every day she texts more than 60 people a message of encouragement, sometimes Scripture, always uplifting.
Judy does good works. She does good for the world. But, even though her acts are quantifiable, she’s adamant that you know from where all the blessings come.
“It’s not about me,” Judy said. “It’s all about Jesus Christ and the Gospel.”
If you would like to donate to the Love Foundation, you can reach Judy by emailing her at [email protected]. You can also mail donations directly to the foundation at the address below.
PO Box 1728
Athens, AL. 35612
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