“God bless you guys for doing this,” a woman said as she stood in front of a table where volunteers were putting a meal together for her.
Once she received her food in a Styrofoam container, she walked over to another table and received a plastic bag with toiletries and other basic needs inside.
Before she and the man with her left, she asked Karen Browning to pray for them. The three people joined hands as Browning recited a prayer.
That’s just one example of the impact Double Down Outreach made on a recent Wednesday while set up in a parking lot on the far east side of Seymour.
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Browning, lead minister for Double Down Outreach and executive director of Waymaker Ministries, said taking time to do that every Wednesday since April 2018 — no matter the weather — has been well worth the effort.
“God is good,” she said. “But the thing about it is these people are so thankful.”
The guests also receive information about local resources that will help them get a job, overcome addiction or improve their situation in other ways.
A woman who had been living in a nearby hotel for two years recently told Browning she is moving out, thanks to their help and encouragement.
“It’s like our kids. Here they go, launch them into the world,” Browning said. “These people are part of our family. They are friends. We see them every week. We ask about their kids. We know about what’s going on in their lives. They trust us … so to me, that means more than anything that we could ever do is just that they care enough to let us into their lives.”
While she and the volunteers don’t do their work for awards, they are very appreciative of recently receiving the Jackson County Community Service Council’s Community Service Award. The honor goes to a group or individual that shows outstanding dedication and service to Jackson County.
Browning said the council’s members include local service agencies and churches.
“It meant a lot because quite honestly, it was them saying that we’re legitimate and that what we do matters to them,” she said. “These are people that have been in and served the community for years and years and years and have all kinds of education, all kinds of rapport. Here we are just grassroots. This is going on our second year, and so it was a real honor in that regard that our peers would recognize us.”
She said the award validates and motivates those involved with Double Down Outreach.
“I said to my team, ‘If this would have come from the people we serve, we could understand it. If it would have come from the general community, we could understand it. But because it comes from the people that serve in a different capacity and they are taking us seriously, it just means the world to me,'” she said. “Not only did it validate in that regard, but then it motivates us to keep a high level of training.”
Her husband, Chad Browning, who serves as outreach coordinator, agreed the award serves as motivation.
“I think it motivates us that people in the community understand what we’re doing and appreciate what we’re doing, so that made us feel a lot better because sometimes, we wondered if anybody really understood what we’re doing out here,” he said.
How it all began
Double Down Outreach falls under the umbrella of Waymaker Ministries, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
The outreach’s mission is threefold: Share the love of God with everyone; feed the body’s needs (food, skills and job training, clothing, etc.); and feed the spirit’s needs (love, fellowship, encouragement, belief in the individual and God’s Word).
The idea came from the Brownings’ daughter, Danika, who is now 9. Her New Year’s resolution was to help the homeless. Many of the people who come for the Wednesday meals are homeless.
“I think it’s pretty cool and interesting,” Danika said of how Double Down Outreach has progressed in such a short time. “It makes me feel like I’m useful for something.”
Danika likes spending time with her parents and other volunteers every Wednesday.
“When we’re home, she reads prayer a lot and prays for our friends out here and asks God to take care of them,” Karen said.
Dinner is served
The meals started with the Brownings and a handful of people setting up a couple of tables every Wednesday in the parking lot between Sunshine Cafe and what is now the site of the city’s second Taco Bell.
The back of Karen’s sport utility vehicle would be filled with everything needed for the meals and also other basic needs items to hand out.
“When we started, it was one week pizza — Little Caesars — then the next week sandwiches because I don’t cook,” Karen said, smiling.
Now, she uses another SUV to haul their Blessing Trailer that has shelves filled with toiletries, paper goods, household supplies and even some pet food. Plus, it holds a large pop-up tent and several tables to set up for the food line. The food is different every week and is donated from local businesses or made by the volunteers.
Anywhere from 25 to 70 people show up to get meals, Karen said. Volunteers also take food to people who can’t get out to the site.
Lending a helping hand
No more than 10 volunteers can help each Wednesday. Volunteers are required to attend six weeks of training, which includes Helping Without Hurting, first aid, spiritual aid and more.
There also is a mentoring opportunity.
“They hang out with one of our other team members. They get a feel for it whether or not this is for them,” Karen said. “Then they have to attend the mandatory trainings.”
Double Down Outreach now has around 40 volunteers.
“When they come out here the first time and they see the need, it’s always a different response,” she said. “Sometimes, it moves them to tears. Sometimes, they are just like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ Sometimes, they are like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do more,’ and I have to slow them down because they can’t do anything more than what the people are willing to do themselves, so we meet them where they’re at.”
Homeless has a variety of definitions, Karen said. It could be someone living out in the elements, in their car or in a tent. There also are “couch surfers” who have no home and stay with family or friends on a temporary basis. Then there are families who pay to live in motels because they can’t find affordable housing.
According to information provided by local schools, there are more than 60 homeless children in Seymour. That, however, doesn’t count adults.
“We estimate upwards of 100 people to all the way as far as 300 at any given time in Jackson County are homeless,” Karen said. “If you look at United Way statistics for Jackson County, the ALICE statistic is 42% in Jackson County, so 42% are either two paychecks away from being homeless or at or below the poverty line.”
Double Down Outreach also serves people who are struggling in other ways. Some of the volunteers have been through their own struggles.
“If it wasn’t for our families, Chad and I would have lost our house because he was in a wreck and was out of work for about 10 months, so we understand, and a lot of our volunteers have been there, done that, too,” Karen said.
“We have people that have come through drug addiction, and we’ve had people that have made lots of bad choices,” she said. “We take all kinds of individuals and bring them here to show them — the people that we serve — ‘Hey, these guys can make it. You can, too.'”
Allen Ruddick of Seymour and his wife, Laura, have volunteered for Double Down Outreach for more than a year. He said it makes him feel good to help.
“I just like to help the underdog, so being a Christian, it’s doing something that is serving the least of these,” he said.
Before, he said he didn’t realize how big the homelessness issue was in Jackson County.
“It was something that I hadn’t noticed before,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, I started seeing these people that I see going up and down Highway 50, and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ I started putting things together.”
Ruddick encourages others to volunteer.
“For those that want to do mission work, you don’t have to go halfway around the world when there’s a mission field right here,” he said. “We could use everybody. We don’t care about your past. We can use anybody in some way. It’s a way to give back.”
‘God has provided for us’
Volunteers also help with jail ministry, educate people in the community and serve in other ways.
The organization also has partnered with Beauty from Ashes Tattoo Parlor in Crothersville and Community Church of Brownstown to provide information to people in those Jackson County communities.
“Since we have more volunteers, we’re looking to have a real presence so that we can connect people,” Karen said. “That’s what a lot of the service agencies tell us is that it’s hard to get to other places, so with us going into the different parts of the county and building that rapport, we can get them to those other agencies.”
Chad said he is proud of the work Double Down Outreach has done so far and continues to do.
“It has been a workout for us, but God has provided for us,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for — to be the hands and feet of him.”
There’s nowhere he would rather be on Wednesdays than volunteering in the parking lot on the east side of Seymour interacting with the people who stop by.
“It just makes me feel great because a lot of them don’t have anybody, and a lot of them don’t think anybody cares, and that’s what we’re here for — to show them that somebody does love them,” he said. “That makes me feel pretty good.”
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Jackson County Community Service Council Community Service Award winners
2016: Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry
2017: Charlotte Moss with Turning Point Domestic Violence Services
2018: Tonja Couch with Jackson County United Way
2019: Double Down Outreach
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For information about Double Down Outreach, including receiving assistance, volunteering or making a donation, call 877-325-3696 or visit facebook.com/doubledownoutreach.
The next volunteer training is set for 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Rockford United Methodist Church, 1934 N. Ewing St., Seymour.