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Good Will Ambassador: ‘Doing this is what brings me joy’

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Fourth in a series

By Michele Roberts

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psalm 119:105

These are the words over the door of Jackie’s Place, a haven of hope created by Lancaster resident Jackie Brown.

Since 1994, Brown has been behind the counter at Jackie’s Place, helping those in need in Lancaster. From shoes to clothes to even appliances and furniture, Brown has tried to distribute whatever people need, when they need it. Even those in need of a hot meal can find it at Jackie’s Place, thanks to Brown’s home cooking.

“From children right on up to elderly people, I try to look after them all,” she said.

“The oldest person I look after is 102. And there are all those in between the children and the older folks, and I love them all.”

The Lord’s doing

Brown’s efforts have given her an opportunity to see a side of the community that most people rarely see. She said someone recently came in with a 3-year-old child who had no shoes. After searching through what she had in the store and finding she had none to fit the child, Brown went out and bought some.

“It was important to me to make sure that child had shoes to wear,” she said. “I do what I have to do to help.”

With tears in her eyes, she recounted the story of another child, this one only 14-months-old, who recently walked to Jackie’s Place alone from his nearby home because he was hungry. Brown said she fed the boy three plates of creamed potatoes and gravy before taking him home and issuing a stern warning to the boy’s parents.

“When you see things like that, you just have to wonder why,” she said. “But that’s when I am surer than ever that God has put me here to make a difference.”

Brown said she has plenty of stories about the elderly people she cares for, too.

One 97-year-old woman told Brown she had never had a birthday party in her life, and Brown made sure that she had one when the special day rolled around. She also recalled setting up a Christmas tree for a group of her elderly friends, and said they sat up all night just marveling at the lights.

“Doing this is what brings me joy,” she said. “There are some days when I wake up and I might not feel like getting out of bed, but then I see all the faces, all the people that I can help, and I just pop right up.”

For all the sad stories, there are some good ones as well.

“Not long ago I went to a church to see a 9-year-old boy be put on the deacon board,” she said. “And another Sunday, I watched a 15-year-old give his first sermon. The best thing we can do for children these days is get them in church at an early age. The Bible says train up a child in the way they should go. Because once they’re old enough to hit the streets, you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Brown, who will be 70 in February, looks closer to 50. She said she credits God for keeping her well and able to do what she believes is her destiny to do.

“I said, ‘Lord, if this is what you want me to do, to help these people, then you are going to have to keep me healthy,’ ” she said. “And he has. I go to the doctor once a year and the last time I saw the heart doctor, he said that my heart was probably in better shape than his.”

In contrast, Brown said she has two sisters who suffer from a variety of ailments, and a daughter who is suffering with lupus, cancer and heart problems.

“There just can’t be any doubt that my strength is the Lord’s doing,” she said.

Busy year-round

Brown lived in Charlotte for about 15 years before returning to Lancaster to care for her ailing mother. While in Charlotte, she worked for the Elk’s Club and Bailey’s Cafeteria for three years and National Linen for 16 years.

She worked for Springs in Lancaster for 20 years, but said Jackie’s Place came to life even before she retired. She said she asked God to put her in a needy place and found herself in the building at 224 Brooklyn Ave., where she has been since Oct. 7, 1994. She said there is something to keep her busy year-round, and she has not had a real vacation since 1995.

“During the holidays I fix up my Thanksgiving and Christmas boxes,” she said. “In the spring, around March or April, I’m out playing games with the children and we always invite other churches to come out as well.”

During the summer, Brown is getting ready for the upcoming school year by getting supplies ready to hand out to children who need them.

“One year, I had a little boy come in and ask for some school supplies,” she said. “At this time, I wasn’t giving them out. I told him to go home and tell his mom to get him some, but she didn’t, and he missed his grade that year. When I heard that, I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen again.”

Brown said this year she had 187 backpacks to give away, and there is only one left in the large box that held them, which she said makes her happy to see.

Overcoming adversity

In July 2004, Jackie’s Place was damaged in an arson fire. She said at 3 a.m. July 28, she awoke from a dream that the building was on fire. She walked the floor for a while and thought maybe God was reminding her to deliver a washing machine she had promised to a woman. She went back to sleep but her phone began ringing at 6 a.m. with calls telling her that Jackie’s Place was on fire.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I thought, ‘Now what kind of trick is this?’ But it was true, and we lost everything that was inside. Not really from the fire, because the building is brick, but from all the smoke and water.”

But not all was lost. Brown said the washing machine she had thought of was still usable and was delivered to the woman just as she had promised. Brown continued to serve hot meals on the street for three days before securing another building. She remained there for a little over a year, and some members of Second Baptist Church helped her restore the original location so she could move back in.

“I know who did it, and I know why,” she said. “People asked me about pressing charges but I said no. I said it was better to let God deal with them. I have too much to do.”

Donations needed

Brown said she visits about 138 elderly people a week, about 40 a day. She also has a Bible study on Tuesday and Thursday nights for children.

“I’ve got quite a little choir put together on those nights, too,” she said. “These kids love to sing, even if it is a little off-key. But they have joy in their voices and that’s what’s important.”

Aside from her sisters, Brown has a brother and two grandsons. She lost two brothers who died last year and her husband died in 1998.

She said her husband made her promise to look after their daughter and take care of her in her illness.

“That was just another thing that let me know God wanted me to stay here in Lancaster and keep on doing what I’m doing,” she said. “So that’s where I’m at. And I’m going to keep on doing what I can do until God says I’m done. I truly enjoy what I do and because of that I am very, very blessed.”

Most of what Brown supplies comes from donations, but she does have to buy things at times.

Jackie’s Place is open seven days a week, but on Sundays, Brown opens after morning church services. Donations can be dropped off at Jackie’s Place.

For details, call Brown at 286-6451.