This is unbelievable, Terence Lester thought, scrolling through his phone as yet another news alert rang out. By now it was everywhere, from news programs on television to social media: The dangerous COVID-19 virus had arrived in his hometown of Atlanta, and it was continuing to spread.
“Cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands …” Terence read aloud from an article about how to protect yourself, when suddenly, a text message popped up on his screen. His face immediately broke into a smile: It was from his longtime friend, a Christian hip-hop artist and fellow Atlantan, Lecrae Moore. Hey man, Lecrae wrote. What can we do to help?
I’ve been thinking the same thing, Terence wrote back. There was just someone here saying how they were worried about contracting the virus simply because they don’t have a place to wash their hands. Terence recalled the days when he didn’t have a place to wash his own hands, his mind flooding with memories. Suddenly he was catapulted back in time, to a moment that had defined his life.
Love Sinks In
In his teens, Terence had experienced homelessness himself, sleeping in parks or at friends’ houses. He had run away from home and dropped out of high school, but when he ended up at his friend Erik Moore’s house, a miracle had occurred.
“Look into my eyes,” Erik’s father, Elroy, told Terence as he entered his front door, hungry and exhausted. “If you work at it, someday, I know you’re going to be a leader, Terence.” A leader? Terence thought incredulously. I’m homeless and a high school dropout … how could I be a leader?
But Elroy remained steadfast. “You’ve got to use the gifts God has given you,” he urged. And as Terence’s relationship with Elroy blossomed into a mentorship into his mid-20s, Terence finally began to understand what his friend’s father saw in him.
“I think it’s time to start using my voice,” he said to Elroy. And by the time Terence turned 30 in 2013, he’d started Love Beyond Walls, an organization to advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
Shortly after the launch, Elroy tragically passed away, but Terence stayed determined to make a difference. And now, in the midst of a pandemic, he knew he had to help. His team was already using RVs with mobile showers, sinks and toilets to give the homeless a place to wash up. But how can we use that technology to help more people now? he wondered. Suddenly, it came to him, and with a smile, he texted Lecrae: Portable sinks for people to wash their hands!
Clean Hands, Warm Hearts
In short order, the duo combined forces to create ‘Love Sinks In,’ an initiative to distribute portable sinks around Atlanta. Lecrae funded the first 15 sinks, each of which holds five to 10 gallons of water and is equipped with a soap dispenser and drain, and joined Terence to deliver and install them in parks across the city. Once other manufacturers found out about the cause, donations began flooding in, and in a matter of days, they had 30 sinks delivered and ready for use.
“It means the world that you see us!” one man told Terence as he washed his hands. “I’m so grateful that I get a chance to wash my hands before I eat!” said another.
And it’s clear from the community’s response that the sinks are truly helping. In fact, each day as the volunteers refill the sinks with water and soap, they find a line is already starting of those ready to wash their hands — and Love Beyond Walls has even partnered with Google to install sinks in Austin, Texas, and hopes to soon spread to many more cities. “It’s important to show people that they’re not being overlooked,” Lecrae says. “We’re telling them that we care. We’re saying, ‘You are no less valuable than someone who has four walls to live inside of. We see you.’”
For Terence, seeing people smile with relief as they wash their hands at the portable stations fills his heart with joy. “This time is showing us how interconnected we are and how we really should fight for each other,” Terence says. “I want to live my life like Elroy, a life of really seeing people — people.”
After experiencing homelessness as a teen, Terence Lester started a nonprofit to help people just like him. But amid the coronavirus outbreak, that mission took on new meaning — and he came up with a unique way to save countless lives!
How You Can Help People in Need During a Crisis
Supply basic necessities.
Through his organization, Love Beyond Walls, Terence Lester collects hygiene kits, or as he calls them, “love kits,” to give to those in need. To make your own, fill a zip-top bag with items like soap, a granola bar, a poncho, socks, a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste and wet wipes. Then go to VolunteerMatch.org and type in your ZIP code to find a shelter in your area to drop them off or mail them out!
Help sanitize shelters.
“There is a great need for cleaning supplies, like gloves, masks, garbage bags and other items to help sanitize shelters,” Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, has said. To learn how to make a cotton mask at home to donate, simply visit YouTube.com and search “DIY face medical mask” for easy-to-follow tutorials.
Stock up food pantries.
“Most organizations that do food-sharing haven’t been able to get out as frequently,” Terence explains. How can you help? Drop off surplus water bottles, snack bars or canned goods to your local shelter, or focus on foods and drinks that help nurse people through illness, like juices, Gatorade, Pedialyte, Jell-O and teas.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.