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Red jacket reminder of holiday miracles
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Forsyth County News

Pastor Clifton Dawkins serves a small church on Metropolitan Parkway in Atlanta, where meager offerings from his small congregation feed homeless men and women as often as possible.

From a chance meeting with this caring pastor, I would soon find myself on a street corner in Atlanta unloading a food-filled utility trailer with the help of a dozen or so friends.

Those good-hearted souls, predominately from Brookwood and Hightower Baptist churches, organized the cooking of 16 turkeys and all the fixings associated with a holiday meal in a remarkably few short days.

Recently, I noticed that our coat closet was overflowing. Coats ranging from my children’s middle school years to those that just didn’t fit anymore were taking over and something had to be done.

Remembering Pastor Dawkins, my family filled the back seat of my truck with coats and jackets that we would never wear again.

I shuddered at the cost of those Abercrombie & Fitch coats that were once so important but now just irrelevant clutter.

If you run out of something to do, check your old coat pockets. It is like checking under your couch cushions because you will find money, ancient chewing gum, movie tickets and no telling what else.

Our group gathered for our food and clothing delivery early on a Saturday morning.

We began the cool morning with good intentions and good coffee.

After a short prayer we were off to the unfamiliar and mean streets of south Atlanta.

To say we were out of our comfort zone is an understatement, but I sensed no fear or anyone being ill at ease.

Just before food was to be served to the homeless, Pastor Dawkins graciously received my coat offering and placed the stack on the ground.

Within seconds, almost all coats were dispensed. Abercrombie & Fitch coats went first, but I noticed one little red jacket that remained.

That jacket was thin and likely would have offered little warmth on a cold night. I should have realized it was of little value, and regretted bringing the pitiful red heap that now draped a portion of the parking lot.

I was relieved when an older gentleman retrieved the red jacket and smiled broadly at his new find.

While serving sweet potatoes, I was able to talk to a few of the men and women in the food line.

One man wanted to talk Atlanta politics. Another told of his glory days on the basketball court, where he dreamed of playing “at the next level.”

When I asked one gentleman how he was doing, he replied simply, “Living one day at a time.”

Some were especially grateful for a warm meal, telling each person in the serving line, “God bless you.”

One young man from Montezuma revealed his farm upbringing when he asked for the ham bone soaking in the green beans.

Don’t assume anything about these men and women because you are likely wrong.

I could not help wonder why they were here.

Could it have been a bad economy, an illness, family problems, addiction, job loss, bad luck or bad choices?

If you are very honest -- and I mean very, very honest -- you ask, “Why not me?” Good question.

Winter is looming and cold nights under overpasses will keep Pastor Dawkins busy in his capacity as Fulton County chaplain.

Dawkins will say a few words over 400 unknown people buried in Fulton County each year.

Some of those men and women in our food line will not be alive next spring.

Like that red jacket, many here have been rejected and thrown down.

But for one morning, a morning now dear to me, I saw God reach down and touch lives with a simple meal seasoned with concern for folks in trouble.

I imagine that little red jacket brightening a bleak life and worn like a Christmas ornament by someone with the simplest of needs: food, shelter and compassion.

Not one morsel of food was left at the end of the day and not one person in a group of more than 300 hungry people went without food.

Miracles are not limited to 34th Street in New York. We do have a few on Peachtree Street, too.

Phill Bettis is a Cumming resident who writes an occasional column.