2018-01-11 / Opinions

ACROSS THE SAVANNAH

Johnny Jennings, the Good Samaritan
By TOM POLAND
a southern writer

Perhaps you’ve heard of Johnny Jennings. I had not, but thanks to Beverley Laliberte, I have now. She told me about the man that’s the last of a dying breed. This Ringgold, Georgia, man stands head and shoulders above many in this “me first” era. Jennings, you see, has donated over $400,000 to the Georgia Baptist Home for Children. If you think he’s a tycoon, well, he’s not. Jennings made all this money as a scavenger of sorts.

He and his son would hunt for cans to recycle as a way to spend time together. “We’d walk roads and pick up cans and sell it and take the money and put it in a savings account,” said Jenning’s son, Brent. When Brent struck out on his own after graduating from high school in 1985, his dad kept recycling.

When you spot drink cans by the highway, the detritus of lazy litterbugs, think of Jennings cleaning up behind them. Decades ago he began patrolling roads and picking up cans. So doing beautified those north Georgia byways in what businessmen refer to as a “win-win:” beautification and money for charity in one fell swoop. Several things had to come together, however, for this act of charity to blossom.

First, a good cause had to exist. Enter the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries whose mission is to promote the spiritual, physical, and emotional well being of children, youth, and families. Many others have done much to help this mission succeed, but Jennings’s path to charity started early in life, and it started in a touching way. When Jennings was 18 years old, he visited the home with a member of his church. When the time to leave came, three boys clung to his legs and asked him if he would be their daddy. Jennings told them “I’m going to do what I can as long as I can for the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes.” Well, that 18-word proclamation meant a lot of aluminum cans and paper faced a destiny with recycling.

He got the idea of recycling for charity from his son. “ When I bought my first house, I had enough from recycling to make my first down payment on my home,” said Brent. When his dad saw how the proceeds from recycling accumulated, he focused on recycling. Today, locals aware of Jennings’s charity bring recyclable items to the home he shares with wife of 62 years, Gwendolyn. Jennings drives as well to other places, churches and offices, for instance, to pick up recycling items.

Jennings, a trustee emeritus of the children’s home, brings a check for anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 to the charity each year at its annual board meeting. “My dad doesn’t see the $400,000,” said Brent. “He sees the faces of those kids.”

Seeing those faces is fine re-payment for this Good Samaritan’s benevolence. Jennings has worn out three trucks and who knows how many sets of tires recycling. In 2016 alone he sold 201 tons of recyclable paper and 51,565 cans. So far, all his years of recycling add up to 9,810,063 pounds of paper, saving 79,000 trees in the process.

Community members and churches such as Fellowship Baptist Church in Chickamauga, Chattooga Baptist Church, and Burning Bush Baptist Church in Ringgold, among others, support Jennings. Success begets success. Each time he’s announced how much money he’s raised, supporters bring him more recyclables.

“Sometimes I’d take a load in to the recycling center, and when I’d come home, I’d have another load just put out there,” he said. Despite his age and a couple of mini-strokes, Jennings vows to keep on keeping on. Brent summed up his dad’s commitment to recycling. “If he just quits, he won’t last long. It’s just what he does.” Remember his Dad’s vow? “I’m going to do what I can as long as I can for the Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes.” So far, so good.

Should you find yourself up around Ringgold, you just might spot Johnny Jennings driving around picking up paper from local businesses and churches and taking it to the Chattanooga Recycle Center. Say hello and give him that Coke can and newspaper that’s languishing in your vehicle. And do one more thing. Thank him for making good on that promise he made long ago to three boys looking for a dad. In a way, he’s been their dad for a long time now.

(Visit Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net. Email him at tompol@earthlink.net.)

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