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Hands from heaven
Ministry helps feed neighbors’ bodies, souls
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Trudy Gilstrap, left, and Jeanette Morris chat together as they wait inside. - photo by Emily Saunders

Some come with crushed spirits and downcast faces. Others come in late model cars and clean clothes. They have all lost something and stand to lose much more.

Yet they come to the Unseen Hand food ministry because they are hungry. The nourishment they seek eludes them in the grocery store and, often, in the world.

Trudy Gilstrap of Lumpkin County is disabled and stricken with a litany of health problems. Her monthly Social Security benefits are $4 too much for her to qualify for food assistance.

So she visits area food banks, including the Unseen Hand on Riley Road in north Forsyth.

“They are the best ones around,” she said. “They give you good, fresh food. And they just give you a lot of encouragement down there. I have not met nobody that was as good as they was.”

The Unseen Hand began last November when Tim and Tina Smith, owners of a north Forsyth concrete business, decided to help their neighbors in need.

“The Lord said to do it,” Tim Smith recalled. “I may be a failure in the eyes of the world in doing a lot of the other things that I do. But I don’t want to be a failure in the Lord’s work.”

The Unseen Hand is a ministry of the Hightower Baptist Association, and 56 member churches participate as well as many not in the association.

Each month, the pantry is stocked with first quality food items purchased by the ministry from a Dawsonville Ingles supermarket.

Then every second Saturday of the month, the pantry opens its doors, offering food for the spirit and for the stomach.

“Every time I go in there and they see me,” Gilstrap said, “they just hug my neck and say, ‘Miss Trudy,’ how are you doing today?’ And they know just about everybody by name.”

Unseen Hands volunteers “believe in me,” she said, “and they want to help me.”

When food pantry patrons arrive, they talk with volunteers about their worldly situations and needs. They then meet with a pastor who talks with them about their spiritual needs.

And the needs are all around, Tim Smith said. “It’s expanding.”

Last November when the pantry started its work, 76 people came for assistance. Last month, there were 202, almost three times as many as this time last year.

Tina Smith said the rapid increase in need has astounded her. She tells a story of a woman who recently visited Unseen Hand and drove up in a nice, late model vehicle.

The woman, Smith said, drew some odd looks — until she explained simply that she was behind on payments and expected the car to be repossessed any day.

Apart from about a week’s worth of dry goods and canned items, the ministry, from time to time, provides people with clothing, household items, school supplies and other necessities, including Bibles. And always hope. 

“I always feel good when I walk in the door,” Gilstrap said. “And I always feel better when I leave ... Every one of them folks down there — it brings tears to my eyes right now — they’re all going to heaven and bust the doors wide open.”