SEBRING - Efforts needed to raise money and goods to help the homeless are just part of the battle.
On Sunday, Sebring area resident John Thomas Cooke intended to give to the homeless bags of goods members of Living Waters Church of God donated, but
he couldn't immediately find the people he was looking to help.
As of early that evening, he visited several homeless camps and all the occupants were away.
The one homeless person he did meet could only take a small bag of stuff, including an apple, because he didn't have the means to transport bigger items.
Cooke was out delivering food to the homeless, partly because of community response to a Highlands Today story.
"I really didn't know it would raise that much awareness," he said.
Cooke said he received more than 40 calls - and he doesn't know how some got his cell number - offering donations.
Most of the calls were from locals, he said, but one Apopka woman saw the article about him participating in the homeless count and felt motivated to help.
She plans to donate a variety of items, including shoes, he said.
Some of the donations he received almost immediately after the count, included bicycles, which he gave to the homeless.
Others donated food, clothes and camping gear, he said.
The Living Waters Church of God, of which Cooke is a member, also decided to do its bit. The church collected a couple dozens of bags of food and other items.
The Rev. Ron Peeples said the church decided this month to do various programs to help people and those included a food drive for the homeless and a blood donation drive.
On Sunday, Peeples helped load stuff into Cooke's van.
Cooke traveled to one homeless camp where at least four men live. No one was there when he arrived. Later, he returned and left a couple of bags of food.
At City Pier Beach, Cooke found the one homeless man who said that other homeless people had been forced to leave. The man said he'd been homeless for three days after being evicted from a house where he had been caretaker. He said a dispute over ownership led to the eviction.
Cooke said he planned to continue his search for the homeless this week. Anyone who wants to help Cooke's efforts can reach him at (863) 414-8885.