PALMETTO, Ga. — Two days a week, 400 times a year, Rev. Clifton Dawkins says the same prayer.
He prays for a person he's never met, whose face he’ll never see, but whose body sits in a casket in front of him.
“I think all human beings deserve a measure in dignity," Rev. Dawkins said, "especially in death.”
As chaplain director for Fulton County, Dawkins performs burials for those who can’t afford one. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s seen his schedule fill up.
“Whatever race, whatever religion, whatever the case may be," Dawkins told 11Alive's Matt Pearl, "pain is still in the same. Sadness and tears are still the same.”
The pandemic has meant more services at a cemetery in Palmetto, Ga. It has also meant more efforts at a humble church on Atlanta's west side.
Dawkins runs True Worship Christian Fellowship. Two days a week in this location, he serves meals and gives clothes to whoever shows up.
“We regularly feed 300 people at the church and another 200 downtown," he said. "There’s no judgment. There’s no, ‘Let me save you first before I can help you.’ It’s just a human-on-human help.”
The food, the clothes, and all of the supplies cost the reverend tens of thousands of dollars every year. This year, that number will rise.
“This pandemic has had an effect, financially, economically, on a lot of families,” he said. “I was raised in abject poverty. I know what it feels like to be hungry, to be homeless, to feel like no one cares. When you have empathy for that, something in that will push you.”
At a time of isolation, Dawkins is driven by empathy. It’s why he still ran the grill last Saturday, even after what happened last Tuesday.
"Our church got broken into," he said. "People stole a lot of equipment. I had to really do some prayer about feeding this Saturday, but I knew I was gonna do it. People are really desperate, and people really need the help. They need help.”
So the feedings and drives go on. And two days a week, 400 times a year - and rising - Rev. Dawkins says the same prayer with the same purpose.
“One of my uncles told me a long time ago that we should do all we can while we can, because when we can’t, how can we? So I just try to do all I can, while I'm here."