The growing number of homeless people in the Gulfport area touched Ted Hearn’s heart. Always active in community events, he became involved with a local soup kitchen, Feed My Sheep, as a board member and food server in the daily lunch line. He also worked with the Salvation Army and helped operate a cold weather shelter for the first time in 2011.
“You can tell when God is tugging with you to do something more than what you’re doing,” he recalls. “I was quite happy with what I was doing, and I didn’t want to do anything else.”
As he worked in the shelter and soup kitchen, homeless people kept coming to him asking for help. “I felt they were being put before me, but I was not hands on,” he says. “The more I let myself into it, I realized these people needed someone to help them, and I really began to understand.”
Hearn’s involvement became hands on as he assisted the homeless with transportation, food, tents and learning where to send them for other assistance. He identified the need for a place for these individuals to take showers and do their laundry. Thus, the Clean and Fresh Operation was born in the fall of 2011. With an all-volunteer staff and using the Gulfport Salvation Army facility, Hearn coordinates this service Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “The operation has grown and we use about 25 volunteers each week to keep it going,” he said.
“It’s also grown into providing a lot of small items that people need to exist, such as socks, toilet tissue and toiletries.”
He also solicits more substantial items, including clothes and linens. “We got some linens recently as a donation from the Seabee Base, some linens they were discarding,” he said. “When someone says they’re getting rid of something, I just say ‘yes, I want it.’”
Hearn, 80, is a native of Laurel and accustomed to organizing operations. After graduation from Mississippi State University, he worked for Sanderson Farms, served in the Army and in the Mississippi Army National Guard from which he retired with the rank of brigadier general. He commanded a group in Hattiesburg, a unit in Jackson and a brigade in Laurel. Upon retiring to Gulfport, he served as executive director of Coast Transit Authority and worked in the building industry.
A member of Trinity United Methodist Church, Hearn tries to share his Christian faith with as many homeless people as possible. “I go into the woods to their camps for Bible study and devotionals and to help them know that God loves them,” he said. “You get disappointed when you work with the homeless, but I remind myself that God gets disappointed with all of us.”
Hearn and his wife of 60 years, June, are dedicated to this ministry. “The ultimate goal is to get them off the streets,” he said. “Many of them have problems they can’t change on their own. I’m not interested in just being an enabler; I want to make a permanent difference.”
Toward that goal, he’s seeing some successes and is using the Celebrate Recovery program as started by the Rev. Rick Warren. Slowly, some individuals are getting off the streets and no one is prouder of them than Ted Hearn.
“I’m very concerned that homelessness locally will be worse this year,” he said.
“I realize the economy is bad and protracted unemployment is often the cause of homelessness. We continue to see it happening; it’s not getting less. I hope people in other communities will be drawn to serve.”
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