Volunteer Spirit: Challenge leads to school supply windfall for Peaks Mill Elementary

The ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter prepared and delivered school supply baskets and backpacks for Peaks Mill Elementary School staff and students on Tuesday. From left are Elya Ebert, Kristi Wilkerson, Jeff Sutton, Gala Catron, Robyn Kemper, Dana Blankenship, Stephanie Wilson, shelter Executive Director James Barnett, Nancy Denney and Kelli Gould. (Photo submitted)

It all started with a $50 challenge.

Robyn Kemper, who volunteers her time at ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter, donated $50 and urged board members to do the same.

On Sunday, she took that money to buy school supplies. Loaded down with boxes of tissues and bags of notebooks, markers and pencils, Kemper headed straight to the shelter, where the men there assembled baskets and backpacks for Peaks Mill Elementary School students and staff.

Not only did this act of kindness benefit the school, but it boosted the spirits of the men at the shelter as well.

“It works on breaking the stereotypes,” said James Barnett, executive director at the shelter, of the volunteer hours the men who stay at the shelter are required to perform. “Most of the men have fallen on hard times. Homelessness can happen to every single one of us.”

On Tuesday, Kemper and Barnett delivered the goodie-filled baskets and backpacks to appreciative Peaks Mill staff.

“It was such a nice gesture,” said Nancy Denney, attendance clerk at the school.

Kemper, who is a past president of the shelter board, tirelessly donates her time at the shelter, which her father and eight other men founded 34 years ago.

The shelter relies on the community for volunteers to help with food pickup, delivery, preparation, serving, storage and kitchen and dining area cleanup, in addition to other activities.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said, adding that funding for the shelter comes from the United Way, county and city government, area churches and individual donations.

For Kemper giving back to the shelter, which has been a part of her life for decades, is second nature.

“We all need help sometime,” she said, in an effort to quell the stereotype that all homeless people are addicts. “We lend out a helping hand, not a handout.”

For Barnett, who witnesses the transformation of the men who come to the shelter in dire straits, every bit of community support is important.

“I believe in miracles because I see them,” he said. “It’s the people who work and donate here — they are doing what God wants them to and I see it every day.”

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