It was well after 11pm on a Monday night when I got into my car to head home. As I left the parking lot of Impact! Church I passed three young girls carrying a few small duffel bags. They looked lost and out of place in the Parker Street neighborhood at that time of night. I stopped, rolled down my window and asked them if they needed help. “Don’t hurt us mister, we’re homeless”, one of the girls said. After calming her down she began to share their story with me.
They were sisters and had been living in a trash dumpster for the past 40 days. The only clothes they had were the clothes that they were wearing. In the duffel bags were their “babies” – a sickly dog and small cat. They explained that they had not eaten in days and were looking for help. In talking to them I realized that they were mentally challenged – and sacred to death. Over the past year I had heard some pretty crazy stories – some true – and some not so true. The sisters’ story was one of the craziest I had heard and I was leaning toward some of it not being true. Then I noticed her shoes – the ones in the picture above. They were old, dirty, tattered and her feet were sticking out from multiple holes. They were the shoes of someone that had walked miles on the streets of Lakeland. They were the shoes of someone that had no money and no idea how to get any. They were the shoes of someone that didn’t know how to “play the system” to get new stuff or food. They were the shoes of a scared, developmentally disabled, young woman that needed love, acceptance and help.
Over the past few weeks Impact! Church has worked with two other amazing Lakeland ministries – Gospel Inc. and Talbot House Ministries – to provide counseling, life skills training, on-going living arrangements and job placement for the sisters. We have also discovered that every part of their story is true – one of the worst I’ve ever heard in the hood. Thanks to those that generously give to and selflessly serve at Impact! Church, the sisters now have hope, a better life, a place of belonging, a roof over their head – and new shoes.