By Bo Emerson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
If Frankie Hopper has a superpower, it’s like X-ray vision, except that he sees through the humdrum landscape of Henry County to discover those who are in need.
“The Lord showed me the homeless — in my community,” says the McDonough resident, a retired Army lieutenant colonel with a bad back and a good heart. “They’re not just downtown.”
Hopper, one of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Holiday Heroes, was ready to exercise his superpower-like skill on a recent chilly, glowering Wednesday afternoon. Meeting with fellow volunteer Wayne Clement in the food pantry at Jodeco Road United Methodist Church in Stockbridge, Hopper prepared for a trip to a nearby campground. “There are folks in tents there, and they’re not on vacation,” says Hopper.
With the support of this church’s pantry, Clement and Hopper deliver food several times a week to men and women and families living in extended stay motels, recreational vehicles, or under bridges or in the woods.
Hopper points out the window of his SUV as they head south past a construction site and says, “There’s a man who lives in a shipping container over there.”
Clement’s truck pulls a trailer filled with bins of food, mostly cans of beans, corn and beef stew, packaged mixes, ramen and other durable staples. The food is collected and stored by the Jodeco Road church, which receives grants and donations.
The pair of volunteers help those who have sought assistance from the church, but they also heed their instincts and strike up conversations wherever they go. “Sometimes we don’t know where we’re going to go,” says Hopper, 65, following behind Clement in his SUV. “We just go where the Lord tells us.”
At an RV park that is a former KOA campground, they bring a bin to a slight woman with a graying hair. Her name is Mary Little and she’s limping from knee trouble, but brightens up when she sees Hopper. “You are a great and wonderful man and one of my heroes,” she says, grabbing him in a hug.
“I’m just doing what you’re supposed to do,” he says.
In addition to helping Clement, Hopper is also part of an interchurch group that prepares hot meals for the homeless, served Fridays at McDonough First United Methodist Church. On those days, he also delivers food to the needy and to shut-ins.
Amy Chaffin, music director and praise director at the church, marvels that the genial retiree, who is disabled from his years in the service and walks with a cane, isn’t hobbled by his own problems.
“When he couldn’t even walk he’d be coming over here and loading up the truck,” she said. “He wasn’t going to let his suffering interfere with his work for God.”
A native of Alabama, Hopper graduated from Auburn University in 1969 and joined the Army, serving in Vietnam as a communications and electronics specialist. Most of the time he spent running convoys on the highways from Cam Ranh Bay to Nha Trang, hauling “beans and bullets.” The Army kept he and his wife Linda moving for the next 20 years.
“We’ve been married 45 years and we’ve moved 33 times,” says Hopper.
After his service, Hopper worked for the Veterans Affairs until retiring three years ago. Linda Hopper says her husband became involved in serving the homeless after the two joined Jodeco Road United Methodist Church in 2001.
Hopper’s tireless efforts earned him a Harry Denman Evangelism Award in 2009, an honor given by a non-profit entity within the United Methodist Church called the Foundation for Evangelism. It is offered to clergy and lay people who “exhibit who exhibit unusual and outstanding efforts for the work on Christian Evangelism,” according to the Foundation for Evangelism website.
“He is the sweetest man in the world,” says Jane Purcell, of the Jodeco Road church, who nominated Hopper to be a Holiday Hero.
Says Clement, “Everyone who sees Frankie sees God’s love.”
Photo Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Story originally ran in the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution online on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012