ROGERSVILLE — Without the love and help of God, Rogersville’s Of One Accord ministry couldn’t have grown from serving 171 people in 1988 to a total of nearly $50 million in total goods and services distributed after 30 years in business.
Founder Sheldon Livesay believes the ministry flourished because God loves the people it serves in Hawkins and Hancock counties.
“We always try to be conscious that we’re just servants to the hand of an almighty God,” Livesay said. “And really, I don’t know if He cares about us all that much. We’re expendable. If I leave, He’ll bring someone else to do my job. But He really cares about the people we serve. I know that, and I can go to those people and say, ‘God loves you because He has a whole team of people here to serve you.’ ”
In 1988, Livesay started the Of One Accord ministry food pantry in a 400-square-foot spare bedroom of a house he rented on Main Street in downtown Rogersville.
As the ministry celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2018, it currently has more than 50,000 square feet of space combined in Rogersville, Sneedville and Church Hill.
And at some point during this 30th anniversary, the ministry will surpass the $50 million mark in the amount of goods and services it has provided to the community.
That’s $50 million in goods and services distributed to 1.38 million people served, either through the ministry’s food pantry, free health clinic, home improvements, Christmas for the Children or other programs.
How did the mission start?
Livesay was working for his family-owned grain mill in Rogersville in the mid-1980s when he was called by God to dedicate his life to the service of others.
It came to his attention that some families were taking advantage of local churches, with the same families going from church to church to church for assistance, which meant available resources weren’t reaching everyone in need.
Livesay partnered with the newly created Second Harvest Food Bank to create a central location (his spare bedroom) for families to receive their food boxes and for records to be kept so that no one could double-dip.
“At that time I was still working full time, and this was just a part-time effort that I was doing to satisfy whatever it was inside me that wanted me to do something to help people,” Livesay said.
That first year, they served 171 people with 5,314 pounds of food.
How did the ministry end up in the old Heilig-Meyers building?
After a few months, Livesay’s landlord asked him to move the ministry out of his house, and in 1989 they moved into a small store in downtown Rogersville on South Church Street which later became Sweet Creams diner.
“It was 20 feet wide and 40 feet long and only had three light bulbs, no outlets, no bathroom — but we thought we were in heaven,” Livesay said. “We were paying $115 per month rent, and I was thinking, ‘My goodness. How will we ever raise $115.?’ ”
In the bigger facility, the ministry served 1,611 people with 34,401 pounds of food.
Livesay was still working full time and wasn’t always available to open the pantry when churches came for food.
So they decided to open a thrift store, which would raise money for rent and other overhead expenses and also make sure someone was there all day if food was needed from the pantry.
The thrift store opened in 1990 at the intersection of Main and Church in what is now the Rogersville Local Artists Gallery.
Over the next decade, however, sales grew and the food bank grew, and at times there were people lined up all the way down Main Street, which upset other merchants.
In 2000, they served 22,212 people with 503,769 pounds of food.
By 2001, they were looking for a bigger space, and at that same time Heilig-Meyers a block away went bankrupt. A couple of local banks agreed to take a chance on the ministry and provided a loan.
While the pantry grows, other programs are launched
In 1990, Of One Accord began Christmas for the Children, which started with 45 kids but has averaged about 1,000 every year since 1998.
The coat giveaway started in 1991 with 238 given out, but that program currently averages about 1,600 coats every year.
Operation Good Neighbor (home improvement missions) began in 1994 with one person served, but at its height averaged 75 every year.
Identifying a demand for a food pantry and other services in Hancock County, the ministry opened a thrift store and pantry in Sneedville in 1996. Livesay said it now feeds about one-third of the county.
The Church Hill food pantry opened in 1998, followed by the free medical clinic there in 2000.
What do the stats look like after 30 years?
Food pantry: 17.5 million pounds of food distributed to 602,069 people
Christmas for the Children: 24,096 children served and 21,125 holiday family food boxes distributed
Coats given away: 28,636
Free clinic patient visits: 19,422
Free clinic prescriptions: 78,509
Shepherd Center: More than $5 million in revenue raised through thrift store sales
Overall ministry volunteer hours: 1.1 million
Total people served: 1.382 million
Total goods and services distributed: $49.5 million
There are several other programs, such as the Lunch Box summer feeding program, Global missions and senior meals on wheels.
“God has done things to me that are unbelievable,” Livesay said. “He’s gone over and above anything we could have ever hoped or dreamed or imagined that this would do. And I believe as we hit this milestone that we’re getting ready to see a surge of growth again.
“None of this could have happened without God’s help. We’ve just seen too many times that we’ve been at the brink of failing, and we didn’t do anything except pray. And then something unbelievable happened.”
Livesay believes in miracles
If you don’t believe in miracles, go talk to Sheldon Livesay and he’ll make you a believer.
He likes to tell about the home improvement mission team that stayed an extra day because an elderly woman’s new roof wasn’t finished on Price Grove Road. That day storm clouds were moving in fast, and they knew they couldn’t get done before the downpour hit and ruined the inside of the lady’s home.
“We saw the rain coming, and there was nothing we could do because the roof was uncovered,” Livesay said. “So we stood in a circle and prayed, ‘Lord, for the sake of this woman, please help. We don’t know what you can do, but please help.’
“She had a chain link fence, and it poured the rain anywhere we walked outside this chain link fence — and these mission team members can vouch for this — but it stayed dry within the boundaries of that fence long enough for them to finish the work. They climbed down off their ladders, loaded those ladders in the truck and loaded their tools, and when the last car door shut, the rain came down. I saw that, and I don’t know how God did it, but I’m just thankful.”
When Of One Accord bought the old Heilig-Meyers building, revenue from the thrift store wasn’t as good as they’d hoped in the first couple of months. Ministry members were beginning to panic about the prospect of not being able to pay the mortgage.
“The ribbon cutting day came and we were praying over the building, and a couple came down here from Bristol,” Livesay said. “We didn’t really know them. We just knew who they were, but they came and stood there while we prayed, and while we were praying the wife interrupted and said, ‘Can we say something? My husband and I don’t think it’s right for a ministry to start out in debt like you’re doing.’ I was thinking, ‘I agree, and I wish it wasn’t that way, but we live in the real world.’ ”
Livesay added, “But they continued and said, ‘We’ve come down this week and paid your entire building off. You don’t owe anything.’ Our County Mayor Heiskell Winstead was there, and he said, ‘I’ve never seen a miracle until today, and now I know what one looks like.’ It showered that afternoon, and I walked back up the hill from the store where I lived, and there was a rainbow, one of the brightest rainbows I’ve ever seen, and it ended right on top of the ministry center building.”