Above the Waterline: A cause for hope in Downtown Atlanta
By Sally Bethea
On Thursday afternoons in Atlanta, hope falls from the sky to the waiting arms of men and women who live on the margins of our society.
From a fire escape balcony off the fourth floor of the pastel-colored Atlanta Recovery Center (the Center) on Trinity Avenue, volunteers drop plastic bags of clean clothes to members of the city’s unhoused population: our fellow Atlantans who sleep in shelters, under bridges and on the streets. Most end up here due to mental and addiction challenges, traumatic events, family violence and/or extreme poverty.
On a chilly day in November, I learned about the Center from a man I met while walking down Pryor Street; he’d been living on the streets for just a few days. His name was Michael and he told me some of his story: a college graduate, a good job and a family, but for reasons not stated he no longer had a place to live and was unable to find work.
Now destitute, Michael was struggling daily to find food and enough money to stay at the Center, a 175-bed facility that has been housing men since the late 1960s. He was clearly frightened: people had spit on him and called him names.
In the days that followed, I kept thinking about Michael and wondered how he was faring. I decided to visit the Center to learn more about it and see if I could help.
In the lobby, I met Meg Sparger, an engaging woman who looks more youthful than the age she claims. With her friend Jane Elliott, she co-founded a nonprofit organization six years ago and named it simply Cause for Hope.
Meg’s first question for me: could I climb four flights of stairs? There is no elevator to the fourth floor space that the Center provides free of charge to Cause for Hope for its clothing closet, an imaginatively organized and well-stocked room filled to the brim with jeans, jackets, shoes, toiletries, blankets and positive energy.
This is the place where bags of clothes are individually prepared for the 65 people, on average, who appear every Thursday to catch the bags that are dropped to them. In 2016, more than a thousand individuals were served.
Most of the volunteers at the clothing closet are in recovery – from a few months to many years – and every one of them has been provided assistance, advice and friendship by Meg and Jane. A longtime volunteer named Gary said: “I love those two women; I tear up when I think about what they’ve done for me.”
Wearing a t-shirt with a Gandhi quote (“Live simply so others may simply live”), Meg told me that she has been lucky in life and wanted to give back. For years, she looked for charitable work that would fit her skills and fill her heart. With encouragement from Jane, she began to provide assistance to the unhoused, which is where she met Johnny, a mentally ill man who was sleeping outside. Meg found housing for Johnny and life-changing work for herself.
Cause for Hope does much more than provide clean clothes. In a room at The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception near the State Capitol, the organization hosts Common Ground of Hope Recovery meetings on weekdays. Last year, more than 16,000 people benefited from the 12-step program, which is led by the attendees: they tell their personal stories, celebrate recovery and find spiritual guidance.
In partnership with Good Samaritan Health Center, Meg and Jane are able to provide free medical, psychiatric and dental care to this uninsured, unhoused population. Last year, Cause for Hope was accepted as a charter partner of Compassionate Atlanta, whose trainers teach mindfulness skills and yoga movements monthly at the recovery meetings. Another partner, Ignatius House, provides recovery-oriented retreats free of charge.
With their significant personal investments of time and money, Meg Sparger and Jane Elliott are changing lives and providing hope: one plastic bag of clothes, one meeting and one relationship at a time.
What You Can Do:
- Visit causeforhopeatlanta.org to learn more.
- Make a tax-deductible donation to Cause for Hope (PO Box 9012, Atlanta, GA 31106) to help provide food, transportation, housing assistance and clothing items including backpacks.
- Bring used clothes, still in good condition, to the Atlanta Recovery Center at 169 Trinity Ave. Americans discard 85 percent of unwanted clothing and shoes annually; that’s eleven million tons of textiles that are dumped into landfills instead of being reused and recycled.
Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper , a nonprofit environmental organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.