In the giving spirit, all year long

So many people brought so much stuff to Odell and Johnnie Riddle’s home that their garage kept overflowing. Now they gather, sort and share clothes, furniture and other items out of a warehouse in downtown Dalton, Ga.

Their destination is Appalachia — and the warm reception they receive upon arrival at the Bland Ministry Center in Bland, Va., keeps them gathering more and returning again and again.

“We’ve taken about eight loads this year,” Johnnie told me yesterday. “For three years, we would do a load every month.”

The Riddles started a used car business in Dalton in 1953 and retired nearly 40 years later. But they didn’t slow down.

With bright smiles and hearts of love, they find great joy in meeting the needs of both those who have something to share and those on the receiving end.

“I’m like the grave yard,” said Odell, 84. “I’ll take anything.”

As a result, in addition to clothing, furniture and appliances, they received some 50-lb packages of muffin mix as a donation recently. Other volunteers are helping to divide the mix into smaller bags.

In a sense, the Riddles have become a clearinghouse for getting goods into the hands of those in needs. About 60-70 boxes of sorted clothes will fit into the First Baptist Church of Dalton trailer for the familiar trip to Virginia. When space allows, furniture and other items go along.

But the Riddles are also meeting local needs. When a family’s home in nearby Cohutta, Ga., burned, the Riddles had bedding, furniture and clothes to share. When a school gave them 19 computers, they were shared with two area Boys Clubs.

The Riddles’ compassion has drawn other volunteers who help them clean, sort, box and deliver.

Children at the church once gathered 500 grocery bags of food to send along. A team that often builds wheelchair ramps installed shelving in the warehouse and the youth have gone to Appalachia to assist as well.

The Riddles got into this gather-and-share lifestyle by taking used Bible study literature to Berea, Ky., where students would sort and distribute it to small churches in the region. Bill Barker, director of Appalachian Regional Ministries, asked if the Riddles might gather some clothes as well.

Their church friends responded well, Johnnie said,with more than 60 persons dropping clothes by their house immediately. After the first load was taken to Bland, Va., and the Riddles saw the needs and gratitude, they were hooked.

“It’s a good place for us to help out,” she said.

“Everything is given to us and everything we take up there is given away,” Odell added. “They don’t charge anything.”

Often, the world is classified into givers and takers. In a sense, the Riddles are both — and they have it in the right order.

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