Bridges are defined as a form of transportation from one place to another. But, in the case of Athens PBJs, a bridge is a way to build friendships between the diverse communities inside Athens.
“Our goal is creating community through food,” said Graham Williams, 24, former local director of Athens PBJs. “Food is just a means of a bridge to help build and foster relationships between the homeless and non-homeless people of Athens.”
Athens PBJs, created in 2007, is an organization that seeks to build community throughout Athens. They supply volunteers, usually youth groups, sororities and fraternities, and other organizations, with a list of food supplies that fill brown paper bags, which are distributed every Sunday at 2 p.m. in the heart of downtown Athens. Sometimes, people only stop by for a second to grab a lunch. However, the friendships truly begin to form when people stay and have conversations over the food they receive.
“We have come every Sunday since we started living on the streets,” said Dorothy Gardener as she reflected on the time she and husband, David, have grown in community with the others involved with Athens PBJ. “We love the people we meet here and look forward to it every week.”
David and Dorothy Gardener are just two of the many people who have sought and found community with homeless and non-homeless people in Athens. Although they travel around the city throughout each week, they never miss a Sunday at the intersection of Clayton Street and College Avenue.
A variety of people show up to join in fellowship each week. To many volunteers surprise, the word “homeless” does not have just one definition. Many claim that Athens PBJs has helped impact their perspective on Athens’ homeless community.
“People can be homeless for a variety of different reasons,” said Williams. “They might be unable to find a job, they might be without a house, but we do not focus on that. We focus on the fact that they are searching for community like many of us are too.”
Although the organization is known for their consistency in Sunday meetings, many other events take place in order to strengthen the bonds and community formed on Sundays.
“PBJs is unique in a sense because it is not like your usual homeless ministry,” said 24-year-old, Haughton Carswell. “I love that we meet every Sunday, but having events that allow us to interact with the same people throughout the week is what makes these relationships so real.”
Athens PBJs offers an annual Christmas party, men’s Bible study gathering, and even pickup basketball games at a local court. Carswell said the aspect he loved the most was playing basketball with several of the men on a regular basis.
“It is really cool,” he said. “Here we are, all diverse backgrounds, different stories, even different homes, but now, while playing this game, no one focuses on any of that. We are teammates that are playing as equals.”
Current local director, 22-year-old Hunter Brocato, leads the men’s Bible study and facilitates Sunday meetings. He helps pass out food, checks in on everyone—homeless and non-homeless, and leads the prayer once the meeting comes to a close. After volunteering with the organization for several years, Brocato sees everyone who is involved as his friends. Although, their skin color, gender, background, and homes may be different, they are part of a community who encourage and grow with one another. Anyone can join the organization. If interested, visit www.athenspbj.org and click “connect” at the top of the webpage.
“At the end of the day, “ said Brocato, “we are all just people sharing life together and learning how to best love on one another.”