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How one Forsyth County ministry feeds, clothes 1,500 people every month
A look inside the Hightower Baptist Association’s well-oiled giving machine
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Volunteers at the Hightower Baptist Association Food and Clothing Bank help a family take Christmas toys to their vehicle on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

The shouts calling for Paul Bagley started on one end of the 20,000-square-foot building that is home to the Hightower Baptist Association Food and Clothing Bank and quickly skipped from one volunteer to the next until finally reaching their destination.

“I’m heading that way,” Bagley said.

Bagley swivels and whisks past stacks of canned food, rooms of household items and aisles of clothing that are distributed to about 1,500 local people in need on the second Saturday of every month.

Bagley, a lifelong Forsyth County resident, is chairman of the association’s ministry, but he’s not the boss, he says. The association is made up of 60 churches in surrounding counties with more than 20,000 members. “So people call me and say they need to speak to the owner,” Bagley said. “I tell them, ‘Which one?’”

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Cindy Sanford, left, directs a woman to check in at the right table during the Hightower Baptist Association’s annual Christmas toy drive on Saturday, Dec. 15. - photo by Brian Paglia

Indeed, the association’s ministry is a massive charitable operation that has been a fixture in the north Forsyth community for 11 years, a place where those in need have sought help and community members and organizations have come to give back.

Bagley oversees a group of 200 volunteers that direct families through what he calls a “Walmart that you don’t have to pay anything.” The families must meet certain income levels as determined by the Federal Poverty Guidelines, and from 8 a.m. to noon they can get almost everything they could need.

There are clothes for all ages and gender. There are diapers for those with young children. There are toiletries and laundry detergent and shoes and sheets. Sometimes, Bagley said, a family will come after their house has burned down; they can get bed frames, dishes, desks and other major household items to replenish their belongings. After they’re done shopping, families get back in their car and drive to the back of the building to pick up a supply of groceries. Everything is donated to ministry.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine,” Bagley said.

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The Hightower Baptist Association Food and Clothing Bank on Wallace Tatum Road provides families in need with almost everything they could need, including clothing items like shoes. - photo by Brian Paglia

It’s far more robust than when the ministry started as just a food bank in 2007. Timothy and Millie Keys Smith were just two local residents who saw a need in the Matt community, and so that February they provided 76 families with food out of their home.

By November, the number of families seeking food had grown to the point that the ministry needed a home of its own. They moved into the old Loy Grogan’s Grocery, but the need in the community continued to grow, and so the ministry needed bigger facilities every few years until it found its current home on Wallace Tatum Road in 2013.

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Families in need come to get clothing items on the second Saturday of every month at the Hightower Baptist Association Food and Clothing Bank. - photo by Brian Paglia

And so that’s where Bagley found himself again on a recent Saturday. It was a different kind of Saturday — the ministry’s annual Christmas toy drive — but Bagley nonetheless was helping Cindy Sanford, a local teacher, direct families to check in at the right table. A few minutes later, a volunteer came from the back with a large, black grocery bag full of gifts selected to fit a family’s need.

Bagley watched it all unfold.

“I’ve always believed … is if you can help enough people get what they need in life, then you'll have all you need,” Bagley said.