Five years ago, Joe and Elva Padilla gave away the bulk of their belongings, left their home in New Mexico and moved to Georgia. They didn’t know what their future would hold, but they both felt the call to run a mission here similar to the one they had served in their hometown.
“Back there, we helped with the Lighthouse Mission in Clovis, and the Lord impressed on our hearts that we needed to start a mission of our own,” says Padilla.
The couple’s daughter and son-in-law, Amanda and Frederick Martin, had worked in northeast Georgia. When they sent word to the Padillas that this northeast Georgia locale was in need of a mission like the one back home, the older couple moved east.
They opened Eyes of Love Lighthouse Mission in January 2012. Headquartered in Buford, the grassroots ministry collects and distributes clothing, food and furniture to those in need. Their grant from Jackson EMC helps pay rent at their 332 Hill Street headquarters.
Joe recalls the first week at Eyes of Love. “When we opened up and clothed 91 people that first week, we knew God wanted us here,” he says.
Elva remembers a conversation with one of those served by the new mission:
“What do we owe you?” the client asked.
“Nothing,” Elva responded.
“Because Jesus loves you.”
“What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch, Elva concluded.
Joe’s mother, Senaida Padilla, gave the couple seed money to start the mission, which opened at Buford Drive and moved to its current location in May 2013.
At Eyes of Love, shirts, dresses, slacks, workpants and skirts are hung by size. Rows of shoes in all styles are neatly arranged. A bookcase brims over with books and a corner of the upstairs clothes closet is packed with toys. Clients of the mission may select clothing every other month. Children are provided backpacks and school supplies. Furniture and household items are available for those settling into new homes.
The best part, according to the Padillas, is that everything is free. “If we sold, we’d be just another thrift store,” says Joe. “We came to be a mission.”
Eyes of Love networks with local churches to determine and fulfill local needs. Volunteers gather on the second
Saturday of each month for Volunteer Day to hang clothes and organize donations. Chick-fil-A® supplies lunch and the gathering is as much fun as it is work.
The ministry routinely serves 1,000 to 2,000 people each year, according to the Padillas.
“When people come in, we become their family,” says Elva, relating the story of a client facing heart surgery. “We went to the hospital with her and helped her family find a home. Now, even though they’re on a limited income, she sends $100 to the ministry each month. It’s like the widow’s mite. She gives all she has.”
If Eyes of Love can’t meet a need, clients are referred to places that can, like a food pantry or shelter. While the mission enjoys an abundance of supplies with donated clothes, toys and household items continuously streaming in, cash for rent and maintenance can be another story, according to Joe.
“It’s the financial burden we deal with,” he says. “We always pray for volunteers and donors, like the Jackson EMC Foundation, which has been vital to us.