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Alpha Phi Alpha alumni donate shoes to nonprofits

The local alumni chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity donated shoes and coats Friday to local nonprofits Ark Refuge Ministries, Harmony House and Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment.

The Theta Nu Lambda alumni chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, which counts about 30 members from Troup, Coweta, Meriwether and Muscogee Counties, was represented by Alton West, Charles Milligan and Phillip Alexander. Fraternity brothers collected the shoes and coats individually before separating them by gender.

West estimated the chapter collected about 200 pairs of shoes. The coats were sized for children or small adults, and can be used at Harmony House, which helps people fleeing domestic abuse, or Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment, which works with women with a history of trauma, substance use disorders or mental illness.

West said the fraternity is all about service to the community, encapsulated in its slogan, “First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All.”

Friday also happened to be the 114th anniversary of the fraternity’s founding.

“We always have programs or are doing some type of community service around our anniversary time,” West said. “And because I always reflect back on our founding “Jewels” that started the organization as well.” (Alpha Phi Alpha refers to its seven founders as the fraternity’s “Jewels.”)

Yvonne Lopez, the CEO of Ark Refuge Ministries, said the donations were welcome in a year that has seen businesses and nonprofits struggle.

“When you’re a 501(c)(3), we have to really be selective about what we spend, but when we get donations like this, it helps us with our bottom line,” Lopez said.

Lopez said shoes and clothing are always a need for the men they work with, who are recently released prisoners, homeless men or men dealing with addiction. Those men need clothes for personal reasons, as well as when they’re looking for a job.

“And 99.9 percent of the men that come out of prison to us come with just a shirt on their back … whenever the community can donate those things to us, it’s a great help.”

Used clothing in decent shape is just as useful as the new stuff, Lopez said, citing the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

“Don’t discard your slightly used things because there’s always somebody who can’t afford to even get that, especially with this pandemic,” she said.

Harmony House Executive Director Michele Bedingfield, who also works with Calumet Center, said the donation would be put to good use, as Harmony House has lost several of its fundraisers this year.

“These are name brand items that are coming in here. And it feels good. It feels good for us to receive them,” Bedingfield said.

The most dangerous time for victims of abuse is when they decide to leave the relationship, Bedingfield said. They often don’t have time to pack up their belongings.

“When they see that window of opportunity, they take it. And oftentimes that means leaving with just what you have on, you grab the kids after school and find a safe place to go,” Bedingfield said.

While Ark Refuge and Harmony House are always glad to take monetary donations, Lopez said towels, pillows and toilet paper are other things they always can use more of.

For Bedingfield, gift cards can be empowering for domestic abuse survivors because, instead of passing along a donated gift, they can go to Walmart and pick out a Christmas gift for their child. Restaurant gift cards are good too and can be used to purchase a special meal for people sheltering at Harmony house.

Bedingfield and Lopez said that they were happy to share the used clothes and supplies they receive with other people in need, not just the men and women they work with.

“Troup County does a great job of working together,” Bedingfield said. “So even though these donations are coming to the Ark, and Calumet, and Harmony House, if there is another nonprofit or another family or a school counselor that recognizes a family that needs something, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of us. Because chances are, we’re going to have something for these families.”