At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much going on this Saturday morning at Finlay Park in downtown Columbia.Silence, however, is quickly replaced by a beehive of activity because the third Saturday of the month is when “Operation Feeding the Homeless” kicks into gear, all thanks to a special Richland County Government employee who’s devoted to serving those in need.
From one side, vehicles enter the park’s main entrance on Taylor Street and pull up next to a gazebo area. The drivers exit carrying trays of food, while others bring clothing. Directly across, a steady group of men and women form a line. In the middle, Richland County employee Andrea Hannah-Dennis orchestrates the entire process, making sure those who are less fortunate will have a hot meal, needed supplies and caring support.
“She’s been doing this for 10 years, and in all that time Andrea has never asked for anything,” said life-long friend Dane Harris, senior pastor of the Body of Christ Church & Ministries. “Giving is what it’s all about. What she does, and what everyone out here does, is great because all of us can very easily be on the other side of the table.”
Hannah-Dennis has worked for Richland County for 11 years in the Community Planning & Development Department. She felt inspired to begin an effort to serve the local homeless population after visiting Finlay Park one day and meeting an old acquaintance. “I ran into someone from my hometown of Andrews (S.C.) who was now homeless here, and it hurt me,” she said. “I know if you are from Andrews and you don’t have anything else, you have food.”
Hannah-Dennis brought her friend some food and considered what she could do for others in the same situation.
“I definitely had to do more,” she said. “I didn’t start with much, but people starting helping. County coworkers, family and friends – they all joined in, so now we are onto something. People told me, you got to have a name for what we’re doing, so I came up with ‘Operation Feeding the Homeless.’”
Beginning in the summer of 2007, Hannah-Dennis used her personal funds to make sandwiches and provide bottled water, serving everything out of the trunk of her car. Her efforts have inspired others, and she now has the assistance of several volunteers who are also dedicated to assisting the local population of people in need by serving food, donating clothes and distributing personal hygiene items every third Saturday.
“I always had a desire to give, and I was also inspired by my mother, who would cook all day Saturdays to feed people Sundays,” Hannah-Dennis said. “Everyone is a paycheck away from being homeless. What hurts me the most is seeing a child in need, or an entire family needing help. You just don’t know what people’s situations are.”
Operation Feeding the Homeless occurs the third Saturday of every month. The next two scheduled events are Feb. 17 and March 17. To learn more, visit “Operation Feeding the Homeless” on Facebook or email at [email protected]