Faces of COVID-19 in Sumter County
“Take Me to Church”
A Story of Family, Faith and COVID-19
Tracy K. Hall
Sharon Johnson mourns the death of her husband of over 14 years, Timothy. By all accounts Timothy was a well-loved man. He was adored as a husband, father, grandfather and stepfather. Together, Sharon and Timothy have 17 children and 10 grandchildren. He loved going to church and filled his home with the sounds of gospel music. Timothy was blind due to complications of diabetes. He didn’t let that slow him down. He learned to overcome his loss of sight by being able to recognize the voices of folks he loved. Their voices were important to him and he loved each of those voices and the people he heard around him. Timothy died in an Albany hospital on Thursday, May 7, 2020.
Sharon is brave and heartbroken in telling his story. She feels his loss and aches for him. She was isolated from Timothy as he was in the hospital for 26 days with only an occasional call and some facetime with his family. Sharon reports he felt terribly alone, and she felt helpless to bring him the comfort of a wife and family. “It was horrible, I’m still not dealing with that, it’s the hardest part.” COVID-19 can be a cruel diagnosis and the Johnson family knows this all too well. Sharon reports the beginning of this journey was rather uneventful. “He went to the hospital because of some stomach pain. When he got there his blood pressure was too high. They admitted him to the hospital.” The hospital tested him for COVID-19 upon admission to the hospital, but his test result was negative. They tested him sometime later and the result was positive. Timothy began to run a fever and was placed on a ventilator several times. Sharon reports not being able to hear his voice was extremely hard on the family. “The kids would facetime with him, but the six-year-old and the fourteen-year-old are not doing well at all.” In his last days, Timothy spent a good amount of time on the ventilator. “I know he was scared because no one was around, he couldn’t hear a voice he recognized. I feel like we left him suffering alone. If I could have been there, I wouldn’t have left him, I’d be there 24/7.” However, at one point he was able to speak with Sharon on the phone. His words to her, let her know he was prepared to die. He told her, “Help me. Take me to church.” Sharon encouraged him to keep fighting and let him know she and the kids loved him. Timothy’s response was, “I am not coming home, but I love you and the kids.”
Sharon reports Barnum Funeral Home has done a wonderful job in helping her with the arrangements. However, she is aware Timothy always wanted a church service. Such allowances are not available during this time, but the Johnsons will celebrate his life with a graveside service. Sharon and her family hurt for their loss, but their love for him remains strong. Sharon will lead her family through the grieving process, but she understands part of her leadership means she must limit the contact they have with loved ones who don’t live in her home. She is taking all the recommendations on stopping the spread of the virus seriously. She has good reason to, in addition to losing her husband to COVID-19, she was also diagnosed with the virus. She was given the instruction to quarantine. Her concern was for the family in the home. Sharon, Timothy and 5 children had to take precautions as she was recovering. Sharon reports she was exhausted, she did a lot of resting, and her kids had to bring her meals. However, she eventually regained her strength and healed.
Sharon has some wisdom she would like to pass on. For those who test positive for the virus she asks they be strong and that we pray for them. “I wish it was different, you can’t talk, touch or hug them. We need COVID-19 done away with today. I would not wish that on nobody. I think he was in pain, but he would open his eyes when he understood us.” She encourages the community to “be safe, stay at home, don’t be running to the store unless you have to. You much rather be at home than in the hospital.”
Sharon and Timothy’s story is a hard one to hear. The pain in Sharon’s voice is real and palpable. Timothy’s love for his family and his God is overwhelming. The Johnsons will be feeling his loss for a long time. The Johnsons will support each other through this time, they will continue to honor family and Timothy in the best way they know how. If you would like to be a part of Timothy’s service, it will be live streamed on Barnum Funeral Home’s website and can likely be viewed on their Facebook page. The Americus Times Recorder is so grateful for the bravery of Sharon Johnson in telling her story. It is one that puts a face to COVID-19. It is a face that matters to our community. It is our hope the Johnsons will continue to heal and find peace.
Harvest of Hope Food Pantry continues to provide food and hope to those in need
By: Ken Gustafson
To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked physical and economic turmoil in Sumter County goes beyond stating the obvious. The pandemic has also affected the work of Americus Harvest of Hope (AHH), a local food pantry here in Sumter County that is dedicated to providing food to those throughout the county who are in need.
On Thursday, May 7, the AHH conducted a drive-thru food hand out event in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Americus. “We gave out food to about 600 families,” said Sonny Pinckard, CEO of AHH. Pinckard went on to say that the AHH had another drive-thru food event back on Thursday, April 9 and that the AHH was able to give out food to 320 families who were all clients of the food pantry. However, during the drive-thru event in May, it was opened to anyone who wanted to come.
However, Pinckard said that due to the COVID-19 guidelines laid down by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requiring social distancing, they were unable to give out food at the food pantry because it wasn’t large enough to accommodate the six-foot separation requirement. “We have two little interview rooms and those two interview rooms have about 14 to 15 people in them,” said Pinckard. “What we’re doing right now is non-interviewing. We got permission to do that.”
Under normal circumstances, the AHH interviews prospective clients to see if they and their families qualify to receive food from the food pantry, but due to the pandemic, the AHH has not been required to conduct interviews. Also under normal circumstances, those in Sumter County who are in need come to the AHH food pantry to get their food, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, the food pantry has had to close and has had to conduct drive-thru hand out events to distribute the food.
Pinckard went on to say that the AHH plans to have another drive-thru event on Thursday, June 11, in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Americus from 9 a.m. until whenever they decide to quit. “It will be opened to anybody who wants to come,” said Pinckard. However, Pinckard went on to say that those who come to get food have to be from Sumter County because the USDA has instructed AHH not to allow USDA food to be transported outside of Sumter County. However, Pinckard realizes that some “outsiders” may slip through the cracks. “I think once in a while, somebody slips through,” said Pinckard. “It’s hard to keep up with it when they’re coming. This time, we ran them two lines at the same time so sometimes it gets hard to keep up with where everybody’s from, especially since we don’t ask them their address anymore during this. All we have to do is have their name and the number of people in their family.”
Pinckard stated that as far as donations to the AHH are concerned, the food pantry does not get a whole lot of food donations during the year except during Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Most of what we get, we get through Second Harvest, which is a part of Feed America,” said Pinckard. “We buy stuff from a couple of other places. We haven’t bought anything from the grocery stores because they can’t keep anything on the shelf. We’re still giving out the same things we were giving out at the food pantry. This last time, we gave out a pantry box. It has about 14 items or 15 items in it. We gave out eggs. We gave out bread and cookies. We gave out five-pound pork loins. We gave out Jimmy Dean Breakfasts and corn dogs. We’re able to get enough food to give to people.”
Pinckard went on to say that the biggest thing that the AHH needs during this time to continue to help the community is more volunteers to help with food distribution.
“We need volunteers when we give out the food on the drive thru,” said Pinckard. “We have to have volunteers to pack it this time.”
According to Pinckard, AHH has been serving Sumter County for seven years. “We started actually giving out food on the first Tuesday in June of 2013,” said Pinckard. “We spent about six or seven months before that working out all the details of the operation so we had a board and all the stuff that has to go with that.”
The AHH’s next drive-thru event is scheduled to take place on Thursday, June 11, in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Americus and it is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
Southland’s Law twins reflect on loss of senior spring sports season
By Ken Gustafson
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the attention has been given to the thousands of people who have contracted the virus and who have died from it, as well as the doctors and nurses who are trying to save as many lives as possible. These people obviously deserve the most attention during this crisis.
However, this disease has caused more losses. Across America, several senior high school athletes have lost their opportunity to compete one more time before their high school careers are over. Here in Sumter County, two of those student-athletes happen to be twin brothers who compete for Southland Academy (SA): Landon and Luke Law.
The Law brothers are both standout athletes for the Raiders. Landon was the starting quarterback for the SA football team and Luke was a starting wide receiver. Both brothers are solid basketball players and both are also part of the SA track and field team. In fact, both brothers were expected to help the Raiders’ 4×100-meter relay team break the school record in the event this year. The Laws are also members of the SA baseball team as well and were hoping to help the Raiders excel on the diamond. The Law twins were going to end their high school athletic careers with a bang, but those dreams were erased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I guess I just thought it was like a temporary thing that will last maybe like two weeks at the most,” said Luke Law. “We really didn’t find out about our season being completely cancelled till like maybe a week ago. We were still just trying to hold out hope that we’d have something, but when it ended up being cancelled, it was kind of like, we couldn’t really believe it because everybody we talked to said that the virus wasn’t that bad…that it was just like another flu and that it wasn’t going to affect as many people as it did. It just bummed everybody out when we heard the news.”
While the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) cancelled all of their spring sports around the period of late March and early April, the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) waited longer to finally decide that all of their spring sports would have to be cancelled. “Our coaches have been talking with the rest of the GISA and they were saying that they’re going to try to do something in June and have a little tournament just to see if we would be able to play again,” said Luke Law. “But then, I think that finally got shut down last week sometime.”
Both the Laws were anticipating the upcoming track and field season this year. A year ago, the Southland boys’ 4×100-meter relay team, of which both Law brothers were members, finished first in the region meet and fourth in the state meet. They also came extremely close to breaking the school record in the event. As seniors, Luke and Landon Law were looking forward to being a part of the 4×100-meter relay team that would succeed in breaking the record this year, but they would not get that chance.
“We were really excited about the 4×100-meter relay team team this year because last year, we were really close to breaking the record,” said Landon Law. “This year, we thought that since it’s our last year, we’re going to do some training and get that record broken and have our names in the books for Southland. Really, when the season got cancelled, it kind of took the wind out of our sails. All of the stuff that you’ve been working for to break records and stuff just goes away. You can’t get it back anymore because we’re seniors and it’s our last time, so it’s kind of really devastating, but I mean, we can’t really do anything about it. We’ve got to take it like a man, I guess.”
Though their senior spring sports seasons have been snuffed out due to COVID-19, the Law brothers were able to take comfort in the fact that their accomplishments in the past can make up for what they have lost this year.
According to Landon Law, the coaches and teachers at Southland were able to encourage them that their past accomplishments leading up to this point can make up for their losses this year. “They (coaches and teachers) just said that everything we’ve done in the past meant a lot to them that we stuck with everything throughout the years,” said Landon Law. “It sucks for us not being able to have our senior year finish out the way we wanted it to, but everything in the past, it just made up for us missing this end of the senior year season.”
The Law twins will be taking online courses with the University of North Georgia’s Oconee Campus with hopes of transferring to the University of Georgia.
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