Cleanliness is Next to GodlinessWe do not know who is being changed, he insists, but we are helping so many!
Ted Hearn, a key Salvation Army volunteer in Gulfport, MS, believes in the old adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Since his retirement in 1987, the 90-year-old man has made the hygiene and health of homeless individuals and families his life mission. With 33 years of military service between the U.S. Army and the National Guard, he climbed to the rank of Brigadier General. Along the Gulf Coast, he is known for his exceptional volunteerism between two organizations that care for the homeless, The Salvation Army and Feed My Sheep—forging between the two non-profits “a one-two punch” against homelessness.
Most homeless individuals and families in his area affectionately know him as Mr. Ted. His work begs the question: Where did he get his insatiable drive to do this type of ministry?
“I had a dream where God spoke to me telling me to get much more involved with people,” Ted explains. “I was 79 at the time and I tried to respond with, ‘Lord, You do know how old I am, right? Certainly, there’s someone younger?’ God’s answer to me was, ‘I expect you to love those I love, and I love everyone.’ So, I got my orders!”
No doubt Ted is the man God wanted for a mission only he could complete. He had been serving on The Salvation Army’s advisory board since 1992 and later as property committee chairman, because “I like to build things.”
In 2005, the tsunami of destruction brought ashore by Hurricane Katrina left a shell of the old Gulfport corps building, and with it the Army’s emergency shelter. Although it would take some years for a new facility to replace it, something had to be done and soon.
“The first cold weather night in Gulfport, we set up beds in what was the chapel.”
That was the birth of the incredible ministry Ted nurtured with the help of a small army of volunteers and supporters. From the start, 45 men and 20 women were accommodated in separate areas of the facility. But also, that winter, a problem presented itself to Ted and his two dozen volunteers.
“That first night someone said, ‘I’d like to take a shower,’” Ted says. “So I said to the (then) major, ‘If you get me three rooms, I think we can put in a couple of showers and a laundry room.’”
The ministry took off from there. Between feeding at Feed My Sheep, and a bed and shower at The Salvation Army, Ted estimates that about 150 people are cared for during the year.
“There’s quite a high number of turnover (among the homeless) here — it’s not the same number every week. People move around.”
“Mr. Ted is a godsend,” exclaims Major Jerry Friday, MS Gulf Coast Area Commander. “We’ve borrowed the (ALM) division’s shower trailer, which Ted has stationed at Feed My Sheep. In addition, a nearby laundromat serves as the place for washing clothes.”
Ted’s volunteers are mostly gathered from area churches. Four men are assigned to the Army’s shower trailer at Feed My Sheep in the mornings; six women are busy at the washeteria in the afternoons to operate as many washers/dryers as needed to cleanse the mountains of laundry. They also wash all the towels and washcloths used by the shower operation. About 20 showers are taken each workday, usually with as many loads of laundry done as well.
Incredibly, expenses are minimal, and usually offset by area supporters — washing powder, bleach and coins for washers and dryers, the latter of which comes to $1.50 to wash and 75 cents to dry each load.
“One day, a guy was at the washeteria, and he was watching what we were doing. One of our volunteers explained to him about the ministry and before he left, he gave us $25. That happens a lot,” Ted says.
Even the owner of the washeteria is supportive. “Mr. Lee generates about $200 a month from his machines that we use and always gives us back about $20 monthly. In fact, every time he sees me coming, he yells out, ‘Give him another $20!’” Ted says, laughing.
Ironically, perhaps Mr. Lee’s soft spot for The Salvation Army is in the fact that his mother attended the corps when she was a girl.
When asked who does the folding, Ted says that usually it is the clients, but if they don’t happen to return by the end of the day, his volunteers neatly fold the clean clothes and gently place them in a bag or sack until they are picked up.
Having his faithful volunteers allows Mr. Ted to do what he loves best — talking to the people. He is often seen eating with them at Feed My Sheep, or praying with someone waiting for their newly-washed clothes.
“I love talking to individuals because it tells me what is really needed in their lives,” Ted says. The more he talks to people, the deeper the need he discovers in people’s lives. He wants to help the whole person.
For instance, most homeless people have problems getting prescriptions filled. Ted formed an alliance with the French Drug Company (a local pharmacy), which dispenses medicines at cost to Ted’s recipients. But even that reduced price can get expensive. To that end, three of Ted’s friends pledged $100 per month. Other much smaller amounts come in regularly as well — all of which are properly processed through Salvation Army accounts. Ted even keeps a detailed monthly report of people served, the number of volunteers and hours given, as well as income and expenses.
“Ted has arranged for men to enter the Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in New Orleans. Sometimes, he’s driven them there himself,” Major Friday says.
He even arranged for a homeless man to travel to a Jackson hospital for an extensive pro bono surgery on his leg. The man has now returned to fulltime employment.
“Some recipients of Ted’s ministry have returned to help,” Friday adds.
A few of Ted’s volunteers have been with him from the beginning. The only qualification is that they be Christ-minded in their approach to helping others.
“If you have to tell someone you are a Christian, then you probably aren’t the volunteers we’re looking for,” Ted admonishes. “I want them to see your Christianity.”
Despite successes won through Ted’s ministry, there are also some losses. Ted cites one young man as an unfortunate example. “He was an alcoholic and an addict, like his father. But he kept relapsing until he overdosed. His father showed up at the funeral, drunk. Those are heartbreaking.”
We do not know who is being changed, he insists, but we are helping so many!