Rev. Barbara Huffman has gone hungry. She knows the feeling all too well.
While in her mid-20s she separated from her husband. Although she had a job as an office manager for a downtown Atlanta firm, the financial struggles of raising her 10-month-old baby alone became overwhelming. Barbara could not afford to feed herself for almost three months.
Somewhere between the cost of day care, diapers, and baby food, an ashamed and embarrassed Barbara lost 15 pounds in two months. Perhaps worse was the loss of her dignity and self-pride. When Barbara’s friends and family began to compliment her on her “diet,” she would simply say “thank you,” never “I’m hungry.”
Finally, in tears and desperation, she turned to her then pastor for help. Barbara remarked, “He took out his checkbook and said, ‘I’m going to write you a check. You tell me how much.’”
That $200 check was all Barbara needed to get back on her feet, and although she has paid the amount back “10 times over,” the pastor’s kindness and generosity became the catalyst that spurred her into social activism, and to give others the same gift of hope through Huffman House, the grassroots social services ministry she founded in May 2011.
Barbara, who was ordained as a Unity minister in 2006, believes the ministry was her calling. “I served as senior minister at Unity Church in Jacksonville. Then I did Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in Atlanta and served with Rev. John Strickland for two years at Atlanta Unity as minister of pastoral care,” she said. “During that time I felt called to open Huffman House, tried to do both jobs for a while, and eventually had to be guided into a decision to either stay at the church full-time or run Huffman House full time.”
Huffman House tugged at her heartstrings, and Barbara made the choice to run the food bank full time. To date, Barbara has fed thousands of individuals and hundreds of families in Gwinnett County, Georgia—Atlanta’s largest metropolitan county. Every day, Barbara and her team of staff and volunteers serve individuals and families, distributing food and faith.
“James 2:14-17 reads, What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” Barbara said. “A high collective consciousness has the power to change the world and stop the suffering. Yet, while the consciousness is being uplifted, faith, without works—without action—is not enough. The two—faith and action—help alleviate suffering.”
The food bank provides both perishable and nonperishable items (boxed and bagged items), as well as no-cost grocery stores at senior centers and low-income apartment complexes. The food bank has close ties with Atlanta Unity, and quite a few Unity congregants volunteer there.
“We serve the poorest of the poor and those temporarily suffering from many circumstances,” Barbara said. “We serve single mothers and their children, veterans, the disabled, those with serious illnesses or who are recovering from surgeries, and those who are simply caught in a web of something they don’t have the education or skills to get out of. Beautiful people. Kind people. People in whom we behold the Christ.”
Huffman House feeds the body and soul of each person it touches by offering nutritious food and encouraging friendships without judgment. In the two and a half years since its founding, no one has been turned away due to lack of food.
“We request that our clients come back often when they have a need so we can get to know them, and they can know us; developing trusting relationships,” said Barbara. “The days clients call or email us to say they don’t need us anymore are wonderful! They found a job, a check arrived, or the food we shared allowed them to pay other bills and get back on track. Then we celebrate! And when people never do better, never break the cycle of poverty, we get deep pleasure out of continuing to provide some of the food they need for survival.”
The Atlanta community is also responding to the needs of the people Huffman House serves. During its last food drive, volunteers collected 2,514 pounds of food from about 500 houses in the area. “Huffman House has experienced so many blessings, such as the right and perfect volunteers, funding, and the grace to want to continue working at the street level,” she said. “Somehow, whenever we have a need, it is met. People show up, food shows up, money to purchase food shows up. We witness daily miracles.”
The blessings continue to flow. The food bank recently received several small grants to fund a small part-time staff, and Barbara now has real estate professionals searching for a new permanent home. Another recent addition is a pet food ministry for cats and dogs. In the near future, she hopes to extend services to include low-cost or no-charge counseling, life skills classes, a safe room for homeless parents to bring sick children for the day, and an in-house social worker.
“I believe in the concept of ‘treat and move your feet.’ Pray, care, meditate on, talk about, share, ask for support, and then DO,” Barbara said.
“One of my favorite Myrtle Fillmore quotes from the book Myrtle Fillmore’s Healing Letters is, ‘One’s arms and hands are to be thought of, and used, as God’s arms and hands, the expression of God-Mind’s ideas of power and loving service and splendid work.’ Think about it. Pray about it positively, then use your physical being and other resources to express God Mind in this world. Take action, as Jesus did!”
Visit the Huffman House website to learn more.