Today we’d like to introduce you to Ginger Shocklee.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ginger. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Prior to 2006, my husband and I were already extreme couponers, before it was such a big thing since we had a large family to feed. (Now we have six kids and six grandkids).
Our garage was full of a LARGE surplus of items from cereal to shampoo. In March of 2006, my husband and I (along with three of our kids ranging in age at the time of 9 months to 13 years of age) took a short-term mission trip with our church to South Africa. That trip was one of many upcoming defining moments for us. Where we found ourselves surrounded with (African) people faced with what seemed like insurmountable disease, famine, and poverty, they had one thing…comm-unity. We followed the locals around for hours on end (on foot) checking on their neighbors when they had nothing to offer but love and encouragement in most cases. The flight home my husband and I sat at opposite ends of the plane and were both given a clear vision summarizing what we needed to do: Russell the artistic side, Ginger the verbal side.
Not long after getting home from that life-changing trip, we didn’t have much by way of finances to give but we did figure out where we could start…we could give away groceries and personal hygiene items we had in an abundance. We gave them out to people in need, ding dong ditched a few families, paid our babysitters in groceries etc.
Soon, word spread and we could start helping many more food insecure families and today through our non-profit (The Bridge Connection) Food Pantry we help around 84 unique families each month with 135 visits giving away well over 15,000 pounds of food in any given month! The Bridge Connection’s driving force and passion is building relationships with our guests. Our guests are guests of honor and we want to help keep their dignity intact so you will find our food pantry is guest selection where they get to shop for their groceries (and still receive them free).
Our vision on the plane continued to unfold and in 2008 we started The Bridge Cafe which is a free restaurant style meal where guests are greeted just as they would be at a restaurant, seated by a hostess and waited on by volunteer wait staff.
Guests also enjoy having a table guide which could just lend an ear to listen, offer a hug or share their own life experiences to help encourage that guest along their journey. The guests can also shop in our onsite food pantry and we offer a Kidz Jam for the youngest guests.
Later that year we also started our annual Bridge Christmas Outreach. The Bridge Christmas Outreach is about more than just receiving gifts. An entire evening is planned for our pre-selected families which includes a restaurant style dinner, pictures with Santa, a campfire with smores, a prayer room and our shopping areas where parents shop for kids and the kids in turn get to shop for their parents…and so much more! In 2016, through very generous community donations, we could hold three different outreaches and serve over 650 guests with almost $70,000 worth of gifts and gift cards given. (Video of 2016 found here: https://vimeo.com/200856865.
In 2011, we began hearing God telling us to sell our possessions and to join YWAM (Youth with a Mission). YWAM is a 5-month deep discipleship training journey (where you cannot work your normal job) but spend three months in intense classes learning about yourself and how God sees you followed up with two months of service within a community. Later that year, we started simplifying our possessions and by the end of 2013, we had sold everything we had (except for our home which became a rental) and embarked on our YWAM journey. Following YWAM, we found ourselves homeless because our house was rented and we could not rent an apartment since we had not worked for the 5 months prior. We bounced around with friends, family, house sat for friends and even lived in a hotel off and on. (We also actually almost lost our home in November of that same year after just getting moved back into it within only 30 minutes to spare before it was being sold on the courthouse steps.)
Following our YWAM journey, the summer of 2013, found us serving at the Dream Center in LA and we could find ourselves aligned with what they stood for and how they did their outreach. Following our trip to LA, we came back to our community, canvassed a local neighborhood and began another monthly outreach called Adopt A Block just six weeks later, with the example we had seen at the Dream Center.
Adopt A Block provides an atmosphere of fun on the second Saturday of each month where neighbors around a local park gather and enjoy a free lunch, receive clothing and groceries at no cost to them. (We are there no matter the weather.) We also offer Kidz Jam for the youngest members of the family. Four years later, we provide around 100 servings for lunch, give away several hundred pounds at our onsite food pantry, and approximately 400 pieces of clothing through our mobile clothing truck.
In 2015, we began hearing the word “simplify” again and we started selling off our material possessions for a second time, slowly. At the same time, we were getting phone calls every week from people experiencing homelessness and we kept telling them we had no options for them locally. I hated telling these people in dire straits, “No, I can’t help you.” So, I asked God what was He going to do to help these people. His answer was, “I created you!”. I came to the realization that the only debt we had was our mortgage and if we sold our house, built a tiny house on a cash basis, it would free up more money to start our dream of a tiny house village and provide one home at a time for people experiencing homelessness. This was followed up by a conversation with my husband about REALLY simplifying our possessions including our house this time and living in around 12% of the space we currently did. He dove right into the dream with me and we talked and prayed with our kids. The three of them agreed that we were all in to sell our house and begin our tiny house adventures.
April of 2016, we drove away from our “average” 4 bedrooms 2 ½ bath 2300 sq. ft. home and were no longer mortgage holders. We had handed in the “American Dream” for God’s dream of being debt free and helping others. For three weeks, we bounced around again in and out of hotels and then finally at the end of April, moved into the shell of our current 258 sq. ft. tiny home. We literally only had the exterior walls and a floor, no electricity, no water, no insulation. The five of us lived in just 160 sq. ft. (one side) for several weeks with no inside plumbing for six weeks. A couple of months in we opened the kitchen, laundry room and bath side which is the additional 98 square feet which brings us to the 258 sq. ft. total. The work continues to finish in it even to this day but we have had the joy of designing it ourselves, and my husband building every square inch of it mostly from repurposed materials. It is a debt-free haven for the five of us plus our three inside dogs and outside you will find our 2 pigs and chickens. You can read about our long-term goals for Hope Village (a tiny house foot print within a family to family community style living that includes becoming self-sustaining through growing our food, raising livestock, etc. at http://www.thebridgeconnection.org/hope-village.html.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I have to laugh at this question. Anytime you are following what God asks you to do, it is by far not a smooth road. He does not promise us that. There have been many struggles along our journey. I graduated second in my high school, was accepted at Texas A&M but instead decided to get married right out of high school and had my first daughter. A few years in, I found myself divorced and a single mom with no college degree. Starting a non-profit (years later) was not on my radar at the time.
Five years after my divorce, I married again and now find my life full with six kids and six grand kids.
Everything I have learned is from asking questions, failing many times over, falling on my face in sheer embarrassment in some cases of the knowledge I did not have, but then…I would get myself up, dust myself off and go find the people that had the answers to help me continue in my dream. I have had to say I am sorry and ask forgiveness where I have failed people and in actions. We have faced ridicule in not having a “real job” (we do not draw a salary from the nonprofit we started – just raise personal support to attempt to keep our bills paid and my husband works for the local school district.) We have lost friends, volunteers and leaders along the way. There have never been enough finances to completely fulfill what we want to do; however, we keep plugging away at what we CAN do with what we have. I have run a food pantry out of my garage, other people’s garages, a climate controlled storage facility, a warehouse and now our current small location. I have been called everything from crazy to very faith filled to risk taker.
When you don’t care what other people think about you or the words they throw at you and just do what you can do with the resources you have AND love the people you get to serve, at the end of the day, everything is a-ok!
So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Bridge Connection – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
What we do is build relational connections in the community with the guests we get to serve through the outreaches already mentioned but we also build relationships and partnerships with local businesses, schools, churches, local organizations and city resources to serve and love our neighbors the way we are called.
We specialize building relationships with our guests while meeting their physical needs.
We are known for how we treat our guests and volunteers. Our guests are guests of honor and we do everything we can to keep their dignity intact during their trying times of life. We feel the same about our volunteers – we cannot do what we do without individuals, churches and businesses partnering with us with volunteers and finances.
The thing I am most proud of as the Co-Founder and President of The Bridge Connection: people are not numbers to us and they are not cattle we are going to heard through an “event” or our food pantry. Even if we do not serve the “masses” and our numbers are lower than other organizations, we put importance on relationship with each guest and each volunteer. We might be a little slower in serving a guest but we can tell you about their life and what is going on with them at the end of the day, not just how much food we gave them.
What sets us apart from others, in my opinion, is that we are not JUST one monthly outreach, we are not JUST a food pantry, we are not JUST a Christmas Outreach.
We are all of that. Feeding, clothing and building relationships with the guests we get to serve to help them move out of poverty and empowering them to something greater through loving and encouraging them along the way.
So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Oh my do we have some big plans! Our growth includes a tiny house village where individuals and families can find affordable housing and a safe and secure place of refuge to get their feet back under them. Not only will our guests be invested in but we will ask them to give back in different ways around the farm and tiny house village to let them know they are needed and wanted.
We have plans to expand all of our outreaches within the community as well as expanding our food pantry hours.
- $7 a week will feed a family of four
- $28 a month will feed a family of four
- $60 a month will feed two families of four
- $500 a month will cover our current monthly food budget (in our food pantry only)
- Address: 401A S. Birmingham, Wylie, TX 75098
- Website: www.TheBridgeConnection.org
- Phone: 9724555541
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheBridgeConnection