Justin Barnes, a resident of Lake Norman, NC, saw a need for supplies for Charlotte’s homeless population and decided to take it upon himself to fill it. Once a month, Barnes travels to downtown Charlotte early on a Saturday morning and disburses supplies including hygiene products, food, drinks and clothing.
Barnes, 32, started volunteering in 2010 when he started serving at the Mooresville Christian Mission. Working as the Mission’s volunteer coordinator, Barnes did orientations for new volunteers, transported clients to appointments and picked up food donations from various individuals and businesses.
Being newly sober himself and unemployed at the time, Barnes said volunteering kept him busy and gave him something to do instead of looking for drugs.
After noticing a need for a homeless shelter in Mooresville while working at the Mission, Barnes decided to organize a sleep-out in November 2010 to raise awareness. Participants set up on the street outside the Mission and slept there all night, despite the bitterly cold temperatures. Fifty people ended up taking part as well as several local churches that provided food.
After the sleep-in, Barnes knew he wanted to do more. He started volunteering by making sandwiches at Urban Christian Ministries in Charlotte, a ministry that provides food, medicine, showers, mail and laundry services for the homeless.
While serving at Urban Christian Ministries, Barnes had the opportunity to speak to a homeless man who told him about “The Wall,” a street corner in downtown Charlotte where different churches would set up at 8 a.m. each Saturday to feed them breakfast. It was only food being given out though and Barnes realized someone needed to provide much needed hygiene supplies.
So he took the initiative to do just that. The first time he set up, with his girlfriend and a friend at his side, 80 to 120 people showed up. Now, each time Barnes sets up, scores of people stand in line to receive toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, razors, deodorant, socks, underwear, sleeping bags and more.
Depending on his own schedule and the availability of supplies, Barnes tries to set up at least twice a month. He said for him, the joy isn’t only about helping others himself, but also about getting other people to want to help their fellow human beings.
“If I can take the same desire that’s in me and put it in five to ten other people, then they can instill giving and serving in other people,” he said.
Barnes said he has had the desire to serve others since he was in the second grade.
“I just want to serve those who have fallen on hard times and give them the basic supplies that we take for granted,” he said. “You never know why they are homeless, and it could only take one bad event in your life and you could also be there.”