‘Grandmother church’ of Dallas fights for its future
DALLAS — The steeple at the Skillman Church of Christ…
A fall changed everything for Colette Leslie.
It happened in 2016. At age 39, Leslie, a member of the Sugar Creek Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., had finally found her calling after leaving two previous jobs — one in education and another working in a lab that assisted in organ donation. Both had taken an emotional toll on her, but she had just earned certification in finance and landed a job with a pay raise. Her life was looking up.
Then she took a devastating tumble down a flight of stairs at her workplace.
“Swelling in my brain, unable to work, in and out of hospitals,” she said, recalling the months of pain and agony that followed the accident. She went through four months of physical therapy. Forced to declare disability, she slid into depression.
Six years after the fall, she’s still not able to work a full-time job. She sometimes suffers disorientation. Everyday headaches are the norm. Regular visits to a neurologist and a rheumatologist are part of her life.
“But I want to stay busy,” she said, “so I pour into my volunteer work at church. And this is what led to Renew Common Goods.”
The faith-based nonprofit conducts community giveaway events — distributing food, clothing, home goods, baby items and even furniture to those in need. Leslie runs the organization with her mom, Debrah, and three sisters — Torie Leslie, Laquita Williams and Rose Leslie. They get donations from shopping clubs, distribution centers and department stores.
The events are not small. Leslie must rent more than 10 storage units just to store all the items, which are distributed about once per month during the summer and biweekly during the rest of the year.
Parking lots of schools and churches in the Charlotte area serve as venues for the giveaways. Shoppers are asked to remain in their vehicles, follow signs and caution cones, wear a mask and have their trunks and backseats empty. Only one family is served per vehicle.
The shoppers are led through multiple stations containing different categories of items — family, kids, pets, food, home goods and large items — where they can decide to either collect something or continue on to the next station. They are allowed to accumulate as many goods as they can fit into their vehicle.
Torie Leslie helped develop the procedures for the giveaways. She also maintains the nonprofit’s website and organizes volunteers to help with the events.
“If we have anything less than 15 volunteers, we know it’s gonna be a tough day,” she said.
The nonprofit contracts with Good360, a charitable organization based in Alexandria, Va., that helps identify businesses that provide donations for the giveaways — including Walmart, Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond.
The shoppers get more than supplies for their homes. They’re also invited to consider the Great Beyond.
“A huge part of the Renew Common Goods mission is to share the love of Christ through giving,” Torie Leslie said.
Prayer request cards — in English and Spanish — are available at the giveaways. Shopper also receive invitations to meet with an evangelist.
When the giveaways happen in church parking lots, members often attend and are available to pray with customers on the spot. They also invite the customers to worship and other church events.
Those invitations are producing fruit, Colette Leslie said. She’s seen people she’s met at the giveaways in the pews during church service. Some log in for the congregation’s livestream.
Torie Leslie added, “A big part of what we want to do is to be sure that we let everybody know that comes through that God does love them and that the community is serving in his name. We look forward to partnering with other institutions of faith to do the exact same thing.”
In addition to serving the community, working with Renew Common Goods has been invigorating for Colette Leslie, who has rebounded from her accident and disability and found purpose.
At the same time, the ministry itself has taken a toll. Financial donations are required to keep the work going — and sometimes those come from her own pocket.
“She’s taking on that responsibility,” said her sister, Torie, “which means she sacrifices a lot — her own money even, which isn’t even a lot — to try to make things work and make ends meet. Colette is very persistent. She doesn’t give up.”
Although the items distributed by the nonprofit are donated, fees for storage units and parking are not. Rising gas prices also have become a factor. At one point Leslie bought a 24-foot truck to transport donated items, but it broke down.
“So now that’s an additional fee for renting a U-Haul that I didn’t have to have before,” Colette Leslie said. “I have, as a result, declined a few of the partnerships that I could have had because I can’t afford, literally, monetarily to continue to grow. I can only afford to maintain at this point.”
Many times, family members have looked at each other and said, “We can’t go on. We don’t have any more money,” Torie Leslie said.
But the Lord provides.
“We’re at that place now where we’re like, ‘Well, we can’t keep this up. What can we do?’” Torie Leslie said. “And we have the faith that God will open another door.”
That faith keeps Colette Leslie going.
“In the future, we’d like to have a space where we can store, sort and host our drive-through giveaway,” she said. “That’s a far, far future dream.”
To contribute, or for more information, see renewcommongoods.com/support.
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