Music teacher Joel Pace finds harmony in dual roles as he leads a community outreach.
Be the Change Northeast Florida, Inc. assists people in Nassau and Duval counties in need of clothing and other necessities. The organization is a certified state nonprofit, with Pace as president.
He has actively assisted communities through various outreaches for 28 years. His first outreach project began when he collected men’s clothing for the Clara White Mission.
“I was going to do it one time,” Pace said. “Only once. And then after doing the one time, we had women’s clothing that was also brought to us. We were donating that to Purple Dove and other places and then people kept asking me, ‘Are you going to do this again? Can we bring you more clothes?’ So then we started getting a lot more clothes.”
Pace also holds yard sales on the first Saturday of each month to raise funds to purchase necessities for the charities that the nonprofit supports. Walkers, strollers, crutches and other medical items are also available and often given to those in need.
The next clothing giveaway is July 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 14244 Pace Rd., Jacksonville. The road is off Lem Turner just a couple miles outside of Callahan.
Clothes for men, women, children and infants are available.
“Our clothing is always free,” Pace said. “We never charge for clothing. The yard sale items, we end up giving a lot of it away to people who are in need.”
Andrea Brummett came up with the name for the nonprofit, according to Pace.
“She organized and was just a godsend,” he said.
Michelle Messer watched as two of her sons sorted clothes and deposited them into marked bins.
“We try to help out when we can,” she said. “It’s grown so much. People have a hard time getting rid of stuff, so it’s good to know they have an option to give to people who truly need it.”
Volunteer Lisa Graves coordinates clothing and organizes garments by size and gender.
“Since being a part of Be the Change, I have realized how much I take for granted,” she said. “I am blessed with the resources to go and get new clothes, but so many are not. It is such a blessing to see little children and adults come get clothing and to see the excitement in their eyes over a shirt or pants. I have seen little kids cry tears of joy.”
She continued, “We meet so many people in all walks of life and we hear so many stories. It is heartbreaking to hear some of the things people go through. However, it’s such a blessing to be able to minister to them and oftentimes pray with them. I am so grateful for everyone that donates clothing to Be the Change. They are the ones that make the ministry possible. We welcome volunteers and, I promise, you will be the one blessed.”
Aidan Messer enjoys giving back. He helped Graves as she stacked pants onto shelves.
“It’s fun,” he said.
Brother Keith Messer, volunteers as well, putting clothing in bins and rearranging items.
Music student Evin Fontenot started taking lessons about six weeks ago. He’s learning to play piano, electric guitar, ukulele and percussion.
After learning about the activities, he would like to volunteer for projects.
“I like helping and I like coming here,” Fontenot said. “I want to be a famous dirt bike racer. I want to be a musician, too.”
Mom Alandria Miller stood nearby as her son improvised on drums.
“I think Joel Pace is a blessing to have,” she said. “We’re in a home school program and the kids have an opportunity to learn music and serve others.”
Be the Change also contributes to Making Strides for
Autism, Jacksonville Nurs-ing and Rehab Ministry and Helping to Enrich Autistic Lives.
The West Nassau Hist-orical Society, the River Road
Baptist Church clothing ministry and the Northside Christian Food Pantry also receive assistance. As a child, Pace donated his time to help others under the guidance of his parents, James and June Pace.
“My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they always gave to others,” he said. “They always would help everyone. They didn’t have much, but they found a way. They were always giving. Even Dad, toward the end of his life, that’s what he wanted to do with the money, was to give it to people who needed it. So they always taught me to give.”
Pace keeps the message simple.
“Our motto for Be the Change is we’re going to help you no matter who you are,” he said. “We don’t care about the color of your skin or your politics or your religion or anything. We are nondenominational. We are just there to help people.”
The group’s purpose derives from the Scriptures found in Matthew 25:35-40 as Jesus commends those who feed and clothe the hungry, take care of strangers and the imprisoned. It reads in Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of the brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Pace said people have expressed their concerns that others may take undue advantage of the free distributions.
“I always go back to Matthew and what Jesus said to do,” Pace said. “He didn’t say, ‘Ask why do you need these clothes? How many kids do you have?’ I don’t need to do that. We’re blessed. God’s blessed us and we just want to bless people.’”
The community feedback keeps him focused.
“I hear from people, that I don’t know that well, say that we’ve helped them tremendously and I didn’t even realize it,” Pace said. “We get a lot of messages like that from people who are so thankful that we have reached out and helped, because when we’re doing our giveaway, we have had as many as 300 people here.”
Another priority is to feed people through the Callahan Community Dinner. Gordon and Becky Gresch coordinate the free weekly community meal at the Multipurpose Building near the Northeast Florida Fairgrounds in Callahan. Dinners start at 5 p.m. and conclude within the hour.
“Every week we usually have Callahan Barbecue,” Becky Gresch said. “Danny (Murray) gives us a wonderful deal, so for $125 a sponsor, we usually get a different sponsor every week. They can pay Danny directly and we go and pick up the food at 4:30 p.m.”
Unless a sponsor requests otherwise, meals consist of fried and barbecue chicken, green beans, greens, mashed potatoes and tea. Those who can’t stay pay $2 per plate for takeout.
Able Heirs provides gospel music and a short message during the dinner.
“It really goes a long way,” Gresch said. “We’re able to feed over 100 people with that food. And we’ve even had to increase the amount we’re getting this past year because our numbers have started to climb, which is really good.”
Murray has contributed additional food to accommodate the increased participation without charging an additional cost. “That’s him,” Gresch said. “He’s really great. He’s such a blessing to the community.”
She has participated in the meal program for more than 10 years. Community volunteers and her family pitched in to help after Gleaners Dispatch, Inc. transitioned out of providing the meals locally.
Gresch considers the act of providing community meals as an expression of God’s love.
“Jesus did the same thing, feeding people and then spiritually feeding, so seeing these same folks come back week after week, we have seen tremendous strides in just overcoming things like racism, awkwardness among classes of people, because this doesn’t really operate like a food line, like a soup line or something that you would picture like in the Depression where people are inching their way through and getting their soup and sitting down and eating and leaving,” she said. “This is more like a church without a church sign on the door, and so people are coming in and they are learning how to care for one another like a big family.”
The dinner program is always in need of sponsors, whether it’s a one-time, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly contribution, according to Gresch.
“Everything helps,” she said. “It just adds to that community spirit, because it’s the community helping the community. I think it makes for a really good cycle where the people of the community get stronger and the people supporting the community are lending their strength toward the whole event.”
To volunteer for Be the Change, call Pace at 904-613-7647.