As a Miracle Hill Thrift employee, my perspective of Miracle Hill Ministries as a whole is limited. If you ever need to locate me, you’ll find me at my store seated at a small table near the outer wall surrounded by children’s clothing and hidden from view. Sometime in mid-March of this year as I listened to reports of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus beyond China into the United States, I became burdened for the homeless, especially those in this community. On Monday, April 6, all Miracle Hill Thrift Stores officially closed at 5 p.m. following orders of the governor of South Carolina. The ministry furloughed more than 150 employees. I was one of the last to leave my store. I was not sad, but I instinctively knew something was going to change.
Opportunity vs. Risk
On Wednesday, April 8, Miracle Hill’s CEO, Ryan Duerk, announced plans to open a portion of the Greenville Rescue Mission specifically for sheltered or unsheltered homeless individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and needed quarantine housing. He also presented an opportunity for furloughed staff to get involved. When I got word of this, my heart was stirred. After praying, I felt led to talk to two registered nurses and one physician who warned me of the risks yet encouraged me to pursue this opportunity if the risks could be minimized. I prayed again and felt led to talk with my husband and five grown children. None discouraged me from volunteering, but they too voiced concerns. I contacted Tim Brown, Miracle Hill’s VP of Adult Ministries, who invited me to a staff meeting that week at ground zero–the gym at Greenville Rescue Mission.
At that meeting, twelve of us showed up including Tim Brown, two other ministry leaders, one nurse from Prisma Health, and four men and four women employed in various areas at Miracle Hill. The site, in my view, was impressive. The staff transformed the gymnasium into an old-time hospital setting, simple yet adequate according to Prisma Health. We received information about COVID-19 and its transmission, the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), actual practice on using PPE, and plenty of time for questions and answers from the nurse and administration. At the end of the meeting, the eight volunteers were asked to sign a waiver, and I signed mine with peace. All eight on the quarantine team were then placed ‘on call,’ waiting for guests to arrive.
Testing Positive for COVID-19
Our first guest arrived on April 13, Easter night. It was the same day a massive storm headed to the Upstate bringing tornadoes in the wee hours of the night. I talked with the new patient to find out more about how he had come to arrive in our quarantine shelter. I’ll call him Caleb to protect his identity.
A couple days before Easter, Caleb, age 32, was not feeling well. He had shortness of breath and moments of severe fatigue and/or loss of consciousness. He made his way to the emergency room where he was swabbed for coronavirus, had blood taken for labs, and met with a social worker who told him about the quarantine site at the Greenville Rescue Mission. His lab results were ok, so he was released from the ER and told to return for his COVID-19 results in two days. Caleb was back on the streets but continued to struggle with fatigue.
While riding a bike, he fell a number of times and injured his knee, so he decided to return to the ER to have his knee examined. When he gave his name at the window, he immediately was told that he had tested positive for the coronavirus! The hospital had tried to contact him earlier, but since he did not have his own phone, it was impossible to make that connection.
It wasn’t long before Caleb was escorted to a small room in a quarantined part of the hospital. Since he did not have severe symptoms, he had to wait to be transported to a place outside the hospital where he could be isolated until the virus cleared his body. Caleb grew restless and decided to go outside for a smoke (breaking quarantine rules), and he was not permitted to re-enter the hospital. He was advised to go to the Greenville Rescue Mission right away, and someone offered to give him a ride to Main Street.
Peace in the Middle of the Storm
Caleb is not sure how many blocks he had to walk, but it was a difficult trek. It was storming in downtown Greenville, and COVID-19 was storming inside Caleb. There were times he thought he would not make it, but he finally arrived at the front door of the mission about 9 p.m. Easter Sunday night. (It should be noted that the quarantine site is in the back of the mission, so seeing a COVID-19 guest at the front window got the clerk’s attention!) Caleb arrived drenched, hungry, and exhausted.
Tim Brown showed Caleb the way to the quarantine area where he was able to shower, dress in clean clothes, eat, and rest in his own bed. Tim told Caleb a staff member named Young Ghun would care for him overnight. Tim has a strong southern accent, so when Caleb heard Young Ghun’s name, he began imagining a Hollywood-version of a hired killer coming to get him. But when the two met, there was an instant connection. Together these two grown men in a big gymnasium weathered a powerful storm (which ravaged parts of the Upstate) like two little boys.
Thankful to be Alive
Caleb said he had an awesome experience in quarantine. He got plenty of food, including snacks, rest, TV, medical attention, and time talking with Miracle Hill staff who made him feel safe and loved. He’s grateful for the encouragement the quarantine team provided during his recovery. When first diagnosed with COVID-19, Caleb thought he was going to die. He’s thankful that he is one of the survivors of this novel virus.
For me as a thrift employee, it’s been a prayer turned into an opportunity. It turned out that I was the one who changed. I took a risk, was trained with PPE, and began helping at the isolated section of the rescue mission. It was my pleasure serving Caleb while he was there. I’m glad for the reputation Miracle Hill has developed over many decades in this part of South Carolina which forged an easy partnership with Prisma Health and local governments, making the quarantine site a reality. Although we pray this pandemic will soon come to an end, we are ready and willing to serve more COVID-19-positive individuals who need and want help. WE are open for business!
Post submitted by Mary Forsythe, wife, mom, Miracle Hill Thrift employee and COVID-19 caregiver