MACON, GA. - Stan Jones looked up at the clock on the wall and hurried to finish cleaning up the kitchen at Depaul Daybreak. Located on Walnut Street a block and a half away from the heart of Mercer University’s campus, the resource center, a project of Depaul USA, a national organization that provides everything from financial assistance to showers to food and clothing for those without homes and the less fortunate, began serving the communities in Macon in 2012. Every weekday the center is open to anyone that needs them. On a recent Monday morning, following breakfast, which is served daily, Jones wanted to play the piano that rests in the corner by a window delivering more than enough sunlight for the 60-ish Jones to be able to play under. He sat down on the wooden bench, his black, red, and green baseball cap read, “I’m not 60, I’m 18 with 42 years of experience”. He began to play several improvisations, more Jazz than classical -- more joyous skill than planned performance.
Jones is one of many participants/volunteers at Daybreak, who give their time to helping the facility run while also utilizing the many on-sight services for themselves. “I was coming down here as part of my daily routine and decided to start volunteering because this place has done a great deal for me,” said Jones who moved to Macon in 1982 and had fallen on tough times not long after having served a nearly 22 year prison sentence. He was homeless in 2014, and Daybreak was there for him when he had nowhere else to go. “I don’t mind giving back. Wherever I can fill in to help, that’s what I’ll do.”
The volunteers, like Jones, make up the heart of what Daybreak is doing in Macon. It is giving back in its purest form. “You don’t realize that when COVID-19 hit, besides Daybreak, a lot of services and options were closed,” said Daybreak Director Sister Theresa Sullivan, Daughters of Charity. She listed places like local library branches and fast food restaurants as places people go during the day for wifi use, a quick meal or just a place to get out of the elements. It was 95 degrees the afternoon of Monday, July 27. “So many services have gone online so without computer access it’s hard for people to get things done that way. A lot of time, those kinds of resources we are able to connect people with.”
Jones volunteers in the kitchen more often than not but he also plays the piano. “I play after I come in and finish my work,” said Jones who learned to play “as a little boy.” “I do it for the glory of God because he is an awesome God,” Jones says of working at Daybreak. “Plus, working here gives me an opportunity to play the piano for folks and I like that.”
There to serve
Open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. -11 a.m., and 12 p.m.-4 p.m., the hour break allows for cleanup and a reset. Daybreak offers so many on-site services that sometimes it is hard to imagine this much help is available for any and anyone that needs it.
The people who frequent Daybreak are not referred to as clients or customers but rather as “brothers and sisters. They can take showers, get laundry done, use telephones and computers to contact family members, check email, or get online to see about Social Security checks, food stamps and other government benefits. There are health clinics available thanks to a partnership with First Choice Primary Care and Georgia College of Medicine as well. Students from Mercer University Medical School are also among the volunteers helping provide medical services. There was recently an “HIV test day” and a “foot care day” at Daybreak.
There are many services geared toward helping the homeless, hungry, unemployed citizens of Macon, Daybreak is far from the only of its kind. That said, it is an original in regard to being a kind of “One stop shopping,” said advisory board member Steve Corkery who helps serve breakfast on Monday mornings, going to get the pastries en route to work at Daybreak. “Knowing the poverty in our community here, the unique nature of daybreak is wonderful to see,” says Corkery, a volunteer in one way or the other since the facility opened in 2012. “Some people come here from all over because they heard about daybreak by word of mouth.”
One of those people is Casey Stitt, a volunteer who comes in every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning to work at the front desk. Well, it’s really the back desk as the entrance is now through a courtyard at the side of the building due to COVID-19 safety precautions. Visitors to Daybreak sign in, get their temperature taken and wash their hands before taking part in any
“People need help, and we’re able to help them,” said Stitt, a Macon resident who moved to town a few years ago. “With the times the way that they are, we all need to help any way that we can.”
Administrative assistant Sydney Campbell, a Jacksonville native who made her way to Macon four years ago to attend Mercer University and plans to attend grad school in the fall, got bit by the volunteer bug as well. She started volunteering while in school and upon graduation applied for and got the job. The homeless problem in her native Jacksonville is always on her mind when she comes to work. “The way we have adapted during this pandemic, with services like laundry and showers, has been amazing,” said Campbell, 21. “We have done what we had to do to keep things pushing. I love Macon, and I love what we do here.”
The current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed those clinics a bit. However, the brothers and sisters at Daybreak can still get their temperatures checked, masks, and hand sanitizer. “Along with still needing to eat, people still need medical assistance, and we provide that here,” said Tiya Sprinkle, the volunteer coordinator. She has been at Daybreak for three months after decades working in retail and feels like she has found her purpose. “I’m really excited that I have a job like this because it’s more meaningful,” she said. An incoming volunteer, a young lady, waited in the lobby to get her paperwork started. Sprinkle says there is a need for more volunteers after local seniors that once volunteered had to stop due to COVID-19.
All for one and one for all
“The community in Macon has been very concerned about our homeless brothers and sisters,” said Sullivan, who has been at Daybreak for three years. She understands fully how important the contributions from the community and all the churches in town, not only the Catholic churches, are to keeping Daybreak running at full force. “Somehow we have continued to get what we need,” Sullivan said, of the continuous donations that come into the facility daily. “54 different churches, of all congregations, truly the people of God, have all contributed,” she said.
Corkery agrees, “The neatest thing is seeing how all of the churches come together.”
The day room, full of comfy love seats and tables, and paintings by local artists donated to the facility all over the walls, is a massive space that was once full of visitors. These days that doesn’t occur as much with the 13-person occupancy limit in place for the moment. Social-distancing having touched Daybreak like it has any and everywhere else people once gathered to do their business. “It’s tugging at my heartstrings that we can’t use it the way we used to,” admitted Sprinkle about trying to have proper social-distancing. “We don’t have a perfect solution for that.”
Daybreak has three caseworkers on staff and a pair of volunteer licensed nurses that work throughout the week. The caseworkers are here to give people one-on-one assessments in order to help get things they need, stimulus checks, disability checks, housing, treatment, food stamps, et al. The nurses are on hand to administer medications necessary for those diagnosed with a myriad of diagnoses.
Daybreak is there to help, whether a brother or sister is from Macon or not, a Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. The people of Macon see the importance of having Daybreak in their community doing the Lord’s work and repay that service with service of their own. Seven bags of donations lay at the front desk, the real front desk around 10:30 a.m. The donations, in plastic grocery bags, were dropped off by someone looking to give back to Daybreak. “Every time we need something, someone from Macon drops it off,” said Sullivan.