NEW ALBANY — It was during a New Albany Lions Club golf scramble to benefit those suffering from food shortages when Sara Glass met Rob Barstead.
Glass has traveled to several impoverished countries to provide glasses and eye examinations. Barstead is the leader of the local group Hands of the Lord, which hands out food bags to those experiencing homelessness and others who are in need at 1 p.m. each Saturday at Bicknell Park.
“As the New Albany Lions Club eyeglass chair, I evaluate applications for need of vision services and apply state guidelines to determine if the applicant qualifies for help through the trust funds we manage,” Glass said. “It seemed as if the clients he serves might benefit from this service.”
Glass began going to Bicknell Park on Saturday with Barstead and other local volunteers including Dean Welch, Cathy Higgins and Stephanie Woodward. As she helped people obtain professional vision assessments, Glass observed that there were basic needs that Hands of the Lord, along with its sister organization, Love Unlimited, were trying to address.
“There is an ongoing need for tents and sleeping bags — especially as the weather is turning colder,” she said.
Indiana Lions District 25-E, which is the New Albany chapter, has a special project fund that allows for any club member to apply for a one-time grant for a specific purpose to benefit the community.
“With the encouragement of our president, Karen Cooper, and past-president, Brian Brewer, along with other club members, I applied for the full $500,” Glass said. “It was approved, and we were able to purchase nine tents and eight sleeping bags for Hands of the Lord to distribute.”
Glass said she “learned a long time ago that it is better to work with organizations that have a process in place than to jump in without an understanding of the needs of the individual.”
The last of the sleeping bags arrived last week, and they were given to Barstead who stores them at his home before dispersing them to those in need.
And Barstead said the need is great.
“As Hands of the Lord, even though we’re not affiliated with any church, we definitely are a Christian organization,” Barstead said Thursday. “We firmly believe that ‘When you have done this to the least of my brothers, you’ve done it to Me’.”
Every Saturday, regardless of the weather, the organization sets up at Bicknell Park and hands out meal bags that consist of bottled water, granola bars, a protein such as a package of tuna and other items.
“It’s basically a full meal for them,” Barstead said.
It’s not just those who are experiencing homelessness who are in need.
“We do have some people who are showing up that are working or trying to make a living. They have homes, but times are tough,” Barstead said. “We don’t turn them away. Anybody that is in need, we’re going to help out.”
Love Unlimited actually seeks out the homeless where they are and provides them with a hot meal.
Both organizations’ mission is to see those who are living on the streets find a permanent residence. Barstead said they attempt to provide those clients with information and resources to seek help.
As for the blankets and sleeping bags, Barstead said the volunteers distribute those on a case-by-case basis to ensure they’re getting to the people who need them the most.
On a typical Saturday, between 35 and 50 people come to the park for a food bag, he said, but that number can often climb to as many as 100.
Hands of the Lord accepts cash contributions, but Barstead said food donations are preferred. The group can be contacted through its Facebook page, or by emailing Barstead at email@example.com.
Items needed include:
• Snack crackers
• Bottled water
• Fruit/pudding cups
• Single-serve cookie packages
• Tuna packets/vienna sausage
• Granola/fruit bars
• Individual size chip bags