“We're the ones that see the faces and hear the stories,” said Sheldon Livesay, the executive director for Of One Accord Ministry. “We have a lot of people here that still don't have water and don't have electricity in their homes.”
Of One Accord began ministering to the Rogersville, Tenn., region by distributing food to those in need out of the bedroom of a local home 25 years ago. Since that time, efforts have multiplied to serve over 833,471 people in Hawkins and Hancock counties with goods and services valued at $29,688,592.
“We've been really blessed,” Livesay said smiling.
A handful of staff operating out of the ministry's two base locations (the Shepherd's Corner in Sneedville, Tenn., and the Shepherd's Center in Rogersville), 400 local volunteers and teams of church members from all over America have banded together to give a hand up to struggling citizens.
The mission of the community organization is to “bring a cooperative effort among area churches, agencies and businesses to identify and meet community needs through public support while serving those in need with the love of Jesus.”
Of One Accord is non-denominational in its collaborative pursuit to meet the basic needs of area inhabitants. Anyone may donate their money, time or talents to assist in the ministry's programs, to mention a few ways: by repairing homes, preparing meals for hungry children and seniors, donating food to one of their three emergency food pantries (located in Church Hill, Sneedville and Rogersville), or by donating clothes and furniture to the organization's two on-site thrift stores.
Livesay said Of One Accord is considered a part of Appalachian Regional Ministry (ARM) through the Holston Valley Baptist Association and Tennessee Baptist Convention.
“Groups around America have always wanted to come to the Appalachias to do work,” he said. The people here are as “good as gold” and have learned to deal with what they've got.
Alongside being listed as an ARM host agency, Livesay said word of mouth has been the main conduit of the ministry's expansion and, more specifically, the rising involvement of volunteers in Of One Accord's summer outreach programs.
In the summer, between 1,300 to 1,400 people from 35 churches travel to Hawkins and Hancock counties to assist in the Summer Mission Team Program which began in 2000. The mission teams perform repairs on applicants' homes which range from building a ramp to remodeling entire houses. The First Tennessee Development District, Americans Helping Americans and others provide grants for needed materials.
“The home repairs will probably be about 75 this year when you put them all together,” Livesay said. Not only does this aid individuals with a housing need but the community as a whole; around 220 volunteers come to town each week resulting in an estimated $1 million boost in the local economy each year.
Of One Accord's Lunch Box Program, the first of its kind nationwide, started in the summer of 2005 to provide hunger-relief to area youth through the use of two retired school buses turned 'mobile cafeterias.' USDA-approved lunches are prepared at First Freewill Baptist Church in Church Hill, Tenn., and at the Shepherd's Center in Rogersville and transported to children in both communities. The buses are air-conditioned and trash is self-contained.
“They're [the kids] not allowed to take food off the bus,” Livesay said. This is in compliance with state requirements to ensure the delivered food is consumed by the children that need it and so food doesn't spoil before consumption.
“The key to make something like this work is you have to be at the same place at the same time every day,” Livesay explained. There are eight designated sites per bus. “We can go to those the same time every day and then the children get on and eat. We spend 20 minutes [there] and then we go on to the next site,” he said.
Livesay said the experience has been an eye-opening one, causing him to face a reality that each volunteer must.
“I have a world of reality that I live in based on how I grew up,” Livesay said. “I eat three times a day and it's not in my world of reality when a child gets on a bus on Monday and says 'I haven't eaten all weekend'... So I have to expand my world of reality to include people that need me.”
For more information on Of One Accord's programs or how to donate or volunteer, visit http://www.ofoneaccordministry.org or call their main office at 423-921-8044.