Non-profit News

Paying It Forward on Thanksgiving

Clarence Roberts remembers his days growing up in Brooklyn. It was a good childhood, but his parents had financial troubles. When times were tight, he remembers the nuns and priests in his largely Catholic community stepping in to make things a little better for Clarence and his siblings.

It wasn’t much, but those actions would shape Clarence for the rest of his life. He adopted the idea that kindness kindles kindness, that one act will prompt someone to pay it forward.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot,” Clarence said. “I wouldn’t want anybody in my shoes, although I understand where they’re coming from because I’ve walked in their shoes, too. If I could put a smile on their face … maybe … they’ll be able to do the same thing. They will remember that … Clarence Roberts did something at the Downtown Rescue Mission and gave me this or gave me that, so I’ll pass it forward.”

It was that spark of generosity from strangers that set Clarence on the path to giving back. These days his free time is full of outreach opportunities, especially as he readies to take on the Thanksgiving and Christmas banquets for Downtown Rescue Mission.

A Life of Service

In 2002, Clarence and his wife moved to Huntsville to work on contracts for the government. That wasn’t their true passion, however. The Roberts love volunteering together.

“God blessed me, and I feel that the Lord wants me to be (a blessing) to help others — whenever I can, wherever I can,” Clarence said.

When Clarence and his wife, Phyllis, retired from their government jobs, they stepped in to volunteer in the kitchen at Downtown Rescue Mission. Soon enough, the Mission leadership noticed his talent for getting things organized, and when the person over the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals stepped down, they tapped Clarence to take over.

He had big shoes to fill. The former volunteer was a retired Army colonel, but Clarence and Phyllis were ready for the challenge.

They don’t have children, so the couple says they have ample free time to give back to the community. In addition to his work at Downtown Rescue Mission, Clarence volunteers at First Stop and at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

In fact, he’s had the same little brother for the past seven years, and he is now a freshmen in high school. Clarence takes his little brother to different outings, everything from movies to the Galaxy of Lights.

Thanksgiving at Downtown Rescue Mission

This year Downtown Rescue Mission will feed well over 1,000 people through their in-house Thanksgiving banquets and food outreach ministry. Each meal served at the Mission costs $2.04, according to Director of Volunteers and Church Partnerships, Corey Buckner.

Clarence loves the diversity among the volunteers. Each year, he goes around asking about their lives — where they’re from and what they do when they’re not working at Downtown Rescue Mission.

“You’d be surprised how many volunteers have been doctors and lawyers,” Clarence said. “They tell you all kinds of stories about how they happen to be at the Downtown Rescue Mission, but at one time they … had a career.”

Not only that, the people who will receive the dinners at Downtown Rescue Mission come from all walks of life. Clarence remembers one man who had been an engineer before falling on hard times. The man had been through a divorce and maybe had some issues with alcohol — Clarence asks his questions without prying.

“I don’t like to dwell on that with them because I don’t want them to feel … it is really their fault,” Clarence said. “It could have been a lot of indirect things that probably caused that situation.”

Clarence also loves to joke around with the kids who live at the Mission, making sure they eat their yams before they start on dessert.

If you’d like to get involved with Downtown Rescue Mission, they will need volunteers in January when the holiday rush is over. Right now, they could use monetary donations as well as warm clothing donations.

Find out more on their Facebook page or website.

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