What started Saturday as a project by the Junior Marshal Program to deliver blankets to the homeless quickly turned into a lesson on homelessness for the young Columbus volunteers.
Marshal Greg Countryman said he couldn't believe what he saw beneath the Veterans Parkway bridge off Railroad Street. With the railroad track running beneath, Countryman and volunteers from the program saw debris, old mattresses, chairs and other items under the structure that's become a makeshift home for many of the city's 1,500 homeless.
"You don't know until you come under this bridge and look at it," the marshal said. "When I walked under this bridge, it's sort of like you are watching your child fall down."
To help the homeless, four Junior Marshals and other volunteers from the department handed out 35 blankets and gift bags with soap, toothpaste and other personal hygiene products.
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Anthony Payne sang a version of the hymn "Pass me not, O gentle Savior," before he received a gift bag during a stop at Third Avenue and 17th Street.
"I feel they are doing a good job for the homeless and stuff," Payne said. "I keep praying for them."
Jimmy Church said he's thankful for the gift package.
"It will help out," Church said of the items. "It is cold."
While the group was at the location, Dawnyel Ganter of Columbus said she was moved to stop with a trunk full of meat, bread and other items for the homeless. She said the idea came early last week while she was watching a news report about homelessness and being cold.
"I couldn't imagine being cold outside and being hungry at the same time," said the mother of five. "I don't have much to offer, but I say God moved me and told me to do it."
The Junior Marshals were made up of De'Estiney Favors, 13, Jarvis Danielly, 13, John Estrada, 12, and Grant Smith, 13. The volunteers said they were touched by what they saw and by the efforts to help.
"I really feel great because giving is better than receiving," said De'Estiney, an Arnold Magnet Academy student. "When I see these people, I see that it's kind of hard to just watch them. When we are driving, we just see them, they are walking, it doesn't feel right."
Giving to the homeless made the day for Jarvis, an eighth-grader at Blackmon Road Middle School.
"When you are blessed, you know you got all the stuff you need," he said. "You look at the people who don't have stuff, that's how you know giving is better than receiving."
John and Grant both said they were sad to see people living on the streets.
Grant said people living on the streets can get killed. He thought about how it must have been last week when Columbus was hit with a snowstorm.
"I feel bad for them because they had to sleep in the snow and it melted on them," Grant said. "When I see somebody like that, I feel bad for them."
A group of homeless men and women crowded around an SUV from the Marshal's Office when it stopped at a park at 18th Street and Second Avenue. The remaining blankets and gift bags were quickly handed out.
The marshal's group was soon joined by Ann Johns and members of Billy Bob Outreach Center in Columbus. The group gave out snack bags with cookies, crackers and candy.
"We do it every day," Johns said. "We are out here every day."
Countryman was so moved by the group that he and Cpl. Ezekiel Byrd reached into their pockets and donated cash to help support the outreach.
The marshal said Saturday's effort to help the homeless cost about $600 and used money from a Crime Prevention Grant. It's part of the Citizenship Program for the Junior Marshals and it helps volunteers find out about what's going on in their community.
"Therefore, they have to see it first-hand," he said. "I never want them to grow up and walk by on the other side when they see things that affect our community."