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Messy is as Messy does

 

Spaghetti.

Who would think spaghetti could be a story. It is, after all, only an inanimate object you eat…or maybe sometimes throw against the wall to see if it sticks…or see how much you can twirl onto a fork…or maybe even forget the fork and just go for it.

That is spaghetti’s story. It is one of the most fun family food to eat. I actually think one of my earliest, fuzzy memories is a 4-year-old friend trying to eat spaghetti without his hands and making an absolute mess.

But you have to admit…that still sounds like fun. Even the elderly woman in the hospital on the Patch Adams movie childishly, but rightly, admitted that one of her biggest dreams was “to be in a swimming pool full of noodles…wall-to-wall and top-to-bottom.”

That idea of childish enthusiasm is where this shoot came from. My hope was to capture a made up slogan for a spaghetti sauce and translate it into an image. The hope is to communicate that spaghetti can still bring out the unabashed joy of kids in adults and that is perfectly ok. (It’s a first legitimate attempt at a concept/product shoot so some lessons have been learned to make improvements next time.)

So go enjoy some spaghetti or whatever helps you remember the joys of life.

The Watermelon Man

 

 The Watermelon Man. That’s what they call him.

            Standing beside his truckload of basket-sized watermelons, he slices off a chunk of dripping, pink fruit for any friendly passerby.

At the age of 86, Lexi the Watermelon Man has been in the watermelon business for close to 50 years. Born a mere block from the Farmers Market in Jackson, Tenn., Lexi is a full-blooded native.

“You know where that great big tire is on the corner?” Lexi said smilingly. “I was born right there. I say they must’ve put it there for me.”

Fresh out of the military as a young man, Lexi went to Florida and settled into a life of watermelons.

“I like watermelons,” he said, patting one of the intricately patterned fruits beside him. “They are good for a long time, so I like them.”

For years, he and his family have provided the town of Jackson with watermelons fresh from Missouri. Lexi said he and his wife use to drive once a week to pick up their store of fruit from the growers. But these days, Lexi has more help than before. His wife, daughter, granddaughter and friends are all helpful hands behind the produce table.

“There are five generations in this family,” his granddaughter said. “And he (Lexi) keeps going.”

In his eighties, Lexi said there is no point in slowing down.

“What do you do?” He said. “You sit down and get old.”

Happy to spend hours several days a week at the Farmers Market, Lexi and his family bring a spark of warm color to Jackson.

The Call from Streets to Bridges

The sun blazes down on scattered cars parked in front of a Kmart in Atlanta, GA. Traffic whizzes by and the daily grind seems undisturbed.

Standing in the parking lot, a motley group of young people cluster, following a weekly tradition stretching back for years. The people range from mid twenties to early forties. Most of the men are casually dressed in cargo shorts and T-shirts with cut off sleeves to keep cool. Tattoos of all shapes and sizes decorate strong arms and, for one, a shaved head.

A woman warmly greets each member of the group with a smile and hug as they mingle together.

Unlike most groups of young people, this one has a different plan for a Friday afternoon. Their goal is not bar hopping, strutting the town, watching movies or even playing a harmless game of pool. Their sole motivation is to meet with and care for their friends – the ones under the bridges.

These people under the bridges are not merely “the homeless of Atlanta,” but individuals with names, needs, hearts and stories. For months, this group has dedicated each Saturday, at the very least, to meeting in a Kmart parking lot, inviting volunteers to join, and visiting every bridge within a few miles. After the bridges are visited, they attend to those on the rough back streets of town where gangs and prostitution run rampant.

As each bridge is approached, the group reminds all visitors and volunteers that they are entering a person’s home. Although this home does not have four walls and a roof, the belongings of those living there are to be respected, as are the owners.

The beds, typically made of old sheets or an old mattress lined with sparse belongings, was to be peacefully left alone.

Firm, enthusiastic hugs are given to each resident of the bridges. Greetings spread like old friends and brilliant smiles surface on the faces of many visited, perfectly gleeful at the sight of friends and visitors.

Each individual’s story is known.

One man called “Preacher,” has lived under the Atlanta bridges for many years, preaching to his neighbors the glory of God. Another woman, not present at the time, was said to be in the hospital after some injuries. She had managed to maneuver her bridge home from a wheelchair for some time. Another kind-face lady with a sweet smile, sits in the shade painting her fingernails pink, but pauses to embrace her company.

To the young group and volunteers, these people are precious. No barriers of class are placed between those with homes and those without. Any time a friend under the bridge desires to leave, this group gladly helps “rescue” and “restore,” as their website recorded.

Walking the bridges and back streets most dare not drive with locked doors, this group of young people choose to see their fellow man in a different light. Even those caught deep in horrors of poverty are never unworthy of love, care and another chance.



This ministry, named “7 Bridges to Recovery,” has continued since it began in 2001 and includes various facets: a home for women and children, weekly visits to the bridges and other areas of Atlanta, and leading groups of volunteers. For more information on the ministry these people are involved in, please see 7 Bridges to Recovery at: http://www.7bridgestorecovery.org/home_page.html

When the World Caves in

Mark, a resident of Joplin, MO, tells volunteers the story of when the tornado of May 22 ripped through his apartment complex.

“I guess no one has told you how it happened here.”

Stepping over the ruins of apartment buildings, winding our way through chunks of brick and over shards of exploded windows, we could hardly imagine an explanation to “how it happened.”

After a full day of volunteering at donation centers around Joplin, Missouri, we decided to see what damage was still left after the tornado. Driving along a main road through Joplin, everything appeared normal. Restaurants were bustling, stop lights blinked from green to yellow to red while cars whizzed up and down the roads. Everything was stable.

Until the intersection.

Slicing through the center of town, a mile wide gash of destruction bled from one side of the intersection to the other as far as we could see. On the horizon one direction sat St. John’s Hospital, the only building still standing. In the other direction were piles of gutted buildings, roofs swept off like lego buildings in the aftermath of a 2-year-old’s temper tantrum. Shattered.

Standing in a parking lot by one of the apartments, we strove to take in the horrific sight.

Mark, a former resident of one of the apartments, apparently noticed our grim looks. Introducing himself, he volunteered to “tell us how it happened” for him that terrifying day and walk us around the area.

Mark surveys the place where he and his wife were trapped beneath debris after the tornado.

Mark and his wife had lived in Joplin for a mere six months before the tornado came. For the last five weeks, their home has become a local hotel room.

Walking us to where the club house of the apartments use to stand (not even a skeleton of what it once was remained), he showed us where he, his wife and their dog sat. That day, he said, when the sirens went off, he and his wife decided to go down to the club house to wait out the storm. Many of the residents, including families and children, huddled in the building. As the tornado approached, Mark said the first thing he felt was the pressure drop.

“Like when you dive into the deep end of a pool,” he said.

The building began to shake and the roof disappeared. Children screamed and his wife prayed out loud fervently by his side.

“It was comforting to hear her, to know she was still there,” Mark said.

He and his wife were trapped beneath the rubble. His dog hid beneath his legs on the floor as the tornado sucked all debris and

Not much remains of the clubhouse where Mark and his wife sought shelter when the tornado ripped through Joplin.

structures toward its depths. For what would be a short amount of time to anyone else, the tornado struck with a vengeance.

After it passed them, Mark and his wife found themselves alive under the debris. They were grateful to be alive, though he was wounded on the back of his head and his wife with a concussion. No one in the clubhouse that day was killed. Though approximately twenty yards away in another building, life left several others. Less than a block away, Home Depot no longer existed and all within its walls were lost.

Mark and his wife were taken to a hospital in another town and received care there.

Now they, along with hundreds of others, must face the reality of rebuilding.

“About 46 percent of people affected by the tornado either don’t have insurance or not enough,” Mark said.

To him, volunteers are a glimmer of light and encouragement.

“Just your smile,” he said, would help.

Amazingly resilient standing beside what was once his home, Mark was an example of strength in the face of disaster. Grateful for life and the help and care of others, he extended a welcome to us, strangers, as one would welcome friends into a home.

Mark implanted in our hearts a glimmer of understanding and encouraged us to continue caring even in small, seemingly insignificant ways like a smile.

Today, Joplin and other cities across the States band together to begin the long process of rebuilding lives and homes. But along with the rubble comes the chance for neighbor to care for neighbor, and for those with much to pour out on those who lost much.

Now begins the long road up and out.

 

A Mission of the Heart

Full to overflowing, one of the tents at Misti's Mission in Joplin, MO, houses the sorted and organized supplies for disaster victims to search for needed items.

Heat resonated from the dry ground. The sun pierced down, bouncing off and soaking through the tops of large tents and piles upon piles of clothes and supplies, heaped up to eye level. Trucks continued to drive in and out, dropping off endless supplies from across the country. A few dedicated workers and a handful of volunteers sorted and organized one bag at a time, day in and day out, at a distribution center called Misti’s Mission just outside of Joplin, Missouri.

Following the devastating tornado that sliced through Joplin in early May, a woman named Misti discovered a way to help her hurting community. Volunteering to wash donated clothes in her back room, Misti began a ministry that would snowball into much more. Within a month after the tornado, her simple yet time consuming job escalated into managing a full-blown overflow distribution center in her backyard. And the word “overflow” is far from an understatement. Stretching across approximately half a football field along Highway 43, filling two tents, multiple storage units and a few truck loads for good measure, donated supplies most definitely “overflowed.”

Retelling the story of how the mission began, Misti (right) explains the role of each volunteer including Ruth (left) and her husband.

Yet Misti has been surrounded by a few people as intent on helping and tender hearted as she is. A gracious couple from Louisiana named Ruth and Hugh decided to spend some time helping. Traveling around from place to place camping about six months out of the year, Ruth and Hugh paused instead in Joplin to set up camp along side the supplies tent and became part of the driving and organizing force. Openly welcoming volunteers, including those from organizations such as UnWorthy Servants and Sams, Ruth directs all “incoming traffic” to make the work as efficient as possible while jumping in to help with a gracious smile.

Mickey, another leader at the mission and familiar with organizations similar to Misti’s, decided he could be of use. Leaping from one necessary job to the next, Mickey never has a dull moment. From carting a bucket of ice-cold bandanas to sweaty volunteers, to forming an assembly line for quickly unload trucks, to sorting through supplies, he is the life and bounce of the organization.

Always prepared for what comes next and openly personable, Mickey’s heart for people shines through.

 

Mickey, a hard working part of Misti's Mission, takes a moment in the shade before jumping back into work.

Another shining face from the woodworks of the Mission is a man named Whinston. Hailing from Jamaica but now living in the states, Whinston decided one day that the need in Joplin was one to be met. “I saw it on the news and hopped in my car and came down,” he said. Three weeks later, he continues to don his orange tinted sunglasses and keep the place moving. These are only a few of the many who have put aside normal daily life to help a friend or, to some, a former stranger. Misiti, her husband and these dedicated people will continue “until the end,” as they say, to help Joplin get back on its feet. Though almost constantly overwhelmed by the much needed supplies, and in desperate need of “an army” of volunteers to help, they continue to strive forward through the heat with the hope of providing for those who have lost everything in the face of disaster.


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