THE FOUNDER OF SHEPHERD OF THE GULF, LYNDA FAVRE

photo 4Our experiences in childhood become the foundation of how we develop into adulthood and the kind of people we become. Quite often the stage is set for the path we will follow yet we are completely unaware. Lynda Favre grew up in a loving family in Arkansas and traveled quite a bit with her two brothers and her mom and dad. In 1992 they moved to the Coast from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I only figured out a few years ago that we were homeless up until I was about twelve years old, but as a child I had no idea what was going on,” Lynda said. She and her family lived in cars, lived with relatives and friends on occasion, and lived in campsites. It was a very difficult situation but because they were always together, it felt safe and Lynda grew up happy. She didn’t know or understand the hardships, she understood they were poor but somehow her father always made it work. “We went to school, we always had something to eat, clothes to wear, and my parents always did the very best they could,” I thought everyone lived like we did and ignorance was bliss, “ Lynda said.
The children turned in empty soda bottles to get money for treats but one day Lynda’s big brother decided they should take their money and put it to better use. The kids combined their funds and he went shopping for bread, lunch meat, coffee, and other staples. They loaded up the wagon they had and walked down by the rail road tracks with the intention of giving all the food to the needy that lived down there, hidden away from the general population. “At first they didn’t want to take anything, insisting we take it all back and get candy for ourselves but my brother wouldn’t hear of it. We left everything there and it felt really good to have helped,” Lynda said. She was only ten years old but that moment changed her life. Linda struggled through school, trying to help support the family but the demands were too much and she had to drop out. Later she got her GED and earned various college credits in Social Services, particularly focusing on children with disabilities. Lynda is the mother of two grown sons, Kegan, age 21 and Logan, who is 29.
Lynda became the assistant director of a local soup kitchen and witnessed first hand the terrible hardships of those coming and going each day. The need for shelter was the most pressing. People would ask her where they could go, where could they find help and it upset her so much because she did not have any answers. She knew something had to be done and she had to figure out a way to offer assistance. Lynda created a little resource table which was set up in the dining area. It provided the people with a Red Cross directory and United Way information for Jackson County. The materials were quite informative and helped a great deal but there was still nothing listed for shelter assistance. “There were so many young people…teenagers that were in desperate need and there was nothing I could do! I decided to quit my job and began working on setting up my own Non Profit. I went through all the proper channels, did my research, and filed for my 501C-3,” Lynda said.
During the process, Lynda endured her own difficult times including a divorce. She went through a very questionable period and struggled to gain support but never gave up. Number one on her “to do list” was to build a brand new homeless shelter in Harrison County but it would take a very long time if it could be done at all. The need was so great and something had to be done right away so Lynda shifted her plan and found another way to help. She began providing the homeless with tents, sleeping bags, pots and pans and some very basic cooking supplies. She paid for everything herself in the beginning but word began to spread about the good work she was doing and how kind she was. People started calling and wanted to help in any way they could. “After Katrina, we all got a sense of the plight of the homeless. So many of us lost everything and it was all about survival and make shift shelters. Everyone needed help and everyone was in trouble. We helped one another then and we must continue to help one another now,” Lynda said.
In 2010, Lynda Favre opened the doors of Shepherd of the Gulf, she was granted her Non Profit status and began doing everything she could to help those in need. She contacted the local media and made a formal announcement that she was in business and would be hosting a special dinner celebration for the homeless, “Thanksgiving in the Woods.” Nothing like it had ever been done before. People volunteered to help and cooked the food in their homes and brought everything to where the homeless set up campsites. It was a feast of turkey and dressing and all the trimmings! “It started as a very small event but the “campers” were so appreciative and enjoyed it so much. Each year it has grown and more and more campers look forward to the wonderful spread. I go where they live. It took quite awhile to build trust and get to know these people but I have become a friend and they know they can depend on me,” Lynda said.
Lynda Favre became acquainted with the homeless community on the Coast through a friend who lived among them. You must be invited and it is a slow process to establish a report and build trust. You cannot just appear and expect to be welcomed. The people remain hidden and live in great secrecy. They wish to be left alone. Drug addiction and alcohol abuse is prevalent, as is mental illness. There are quite a number of veterans that live in the woods as well.
Lynda frequently visits the homeless population at their camps which are scattered throughout the Coast. Remarkably she feels no fear, she carries herself in a secure posture and has a very confident air about her. She joyfully brings them supplies and food, will stop and visit awhile if she senses that it is the proper time to do so, and then slowly makes her exit but never turns her back. Lynda is well aware of the possibility of encountering a dangerous situation but she feels very safe and sure when she makes her rounds. The campers are usually very pleased to see her and truly appreciate all the kind things she does. “It’s simply the right thing to do! These people have no transportation, so I must go to them,” she said.
The camps are home to all ages of people, from small children to the elderly. It is rare that Lynda will come upon families with children but it does happen. She has also encountered pregnant women, close to their delivery time and elderly people who are deathly ill with no medicines or comfort to help ease their suffering. It is a very dark and dreadful way of life but Lynda Favre is a ray of hope to them all. She appears out of the blue with her big, warm smile and sweet, gentle manner. She always brings much needed supplies and a positive, happy disposition. For one brief moment, the campers feel a little less alone, a little more cared about. “I try to help in any way I can but there is so little I can do…I would do so much more if I could. Some campers want to reclaim their lives, they want to change their circumstance and others have given up and are totally lost. It is such a sad situation,” Lynda said.
Donations are always welcome and even the simplest of things can make a huge difference. You may drop off supplies at Liberty Coffee House in Gulfport on 28th Street, Tuesday through Friday. Any money that is donated is used to purchase whatever is needed and it is a very long list. Money is also necessary to buy fuel for Lynda’s vehicle so that she can make her weekly visits and bring food and supplies directly to the campers. Now that summer is right around the corner, bug spray is a very important item as mosquitos and gnats are getting bad. The need for tents and blankets is constant. Cook stoves are a luxury but Lynda tries to make sure all the campers have them because hot food is so important. Lynda makes regular visits to the many camps throughout South Mississippi and she has a small storage building for supplies. She was without transportation for quite some time but a very generous individual (who wishes to remain anonymous) gave her a very large van just weeks ago. The vehicle was delivered to her with new tires and fully maintained with a promise to fix anything if it went out in the future. Her first outing in the van was to bring Easter baskets filled with candy to the campers! “Having this van means everything to me. I can never adequately express my appreciation to the donor,” Lynda said.
It is not uncommon to see many dogs and cats accompanying the campers. The strays find their way to the hidden sites and immediately bond with whomever is there. The animals become treasured pets and they share the food. Lynda brings pet food whenever possible so that the people don’t have to share their meager rations with the animals. Walmart on Highway 49 in Gulfport allows Lynda to come by once a week for whatever they have that cannot be sold in the store. Damaged goods of all kinds are given to Lynda for the homeless and pet food is almost always part of the free selection. “Sometimes they give me so much stuff I need to make a few trips! I am so grateful for all that they do to help me,” Lynda said.
In addition to the many, many hours that Lynda dedicates to Shepherd of the Gulf, she works for Americorps Vista for 40 hours a week. It is a national service program designed to fight poverty that was designed by President Kennedy in 1965. She helps with a number of special projects in order to provide assistance to seniors and there are several programs for those with disabilities. Through Disability Connection, Lynda assists with building wheelchair ramps and with necessary home improvements for low income seniors and the disabled. The organization is also very active in homelessness support issues, including most recently setting up a job finders resource. “We will help write resumes, provide the proper attire for interviews, and find transportation to get to and from work. Americorps Vista is the perfect fit for me because we share the same values and passion for those in need,” Lynda said.
The social scene within the camps is very complex. There are those who welcome company and want to get to know everyone. Then there are those who do not want to mix and mingle and insist on being left completely alone at all times. It is important to know the rules and who can be approached and who should not be. Some campers are content with the status quo and have no plans to move out or move on. Others will do anything to escape the situation they are in. The campers who are mentally ill can be dangerous and very unpredictable so it is important to never let your guard down. Some people are filled with anger and disdain yet others are engaging and like the companionship of others. It is a very mixed bag and Lynda never knows what she may encounter.
“My greatest fear is that women will think they can just come out and try to befriend the campers in an effort to help them. It took me a very long time to get to where I am and be accepted. This is no easy thing and you must proceed with great caution and care. I have built a mutual respect with the campers but I still know I must keep my distance and be very aware of my surroundings at all times. I am acutely aware of how they respond to me and if the vibe is good or if it is off. I take my cues from body language as well. Dangerous situations can arise in the blink of an eye but I am not afraid because I know God is with me every step of the way. My faith guides me. The campers know I can be trusted and will do them no harm,” Lynda said. She doesn’t ask a lot of questions, she never pushes to hear the story of what happened to them and has no interest in the how or why of it. Lynda simply wants to ease their suffering and provide them with basic needs. She knows first names only and if they want to engage in conversation, she is all too happy to do so but they have to initiate it. “I will go wherever I am needed, there are no boundaries. Camps exist in Gulfport, Long Beach, Biloxi, and everywhere in between,” Lynda said.
Lynda has been delighted in knowing that she has touched the lives of so many and actually changed the lives of a few through Shepherd of the Gulf. She particularly worries about the sick population of the camps and keeps a very close eye on them, doing whatever she can to help make them more comfortable. One man was not only seriously ill with heart problems but he had issues with drug addiction too. He was so sick that he was taken by ambulance on two occasions but wound up right back in the woods. Lynda made sure he had an elevated air bed to get him up off the ground, and a heat source during the winter. This same man went on to break free from his homelessness, was accepted into a program to fight his addictions through the court system, and is now living a productive and healthy life in Hattiesburg. He honored Lynda and thanked her publicly in a speech at the VA Stand Down event last year. The Stand Down is a yearly event for homeless veterans. It is a very special day where the Vets are treated to lots of fun activities and given lots of supplies.
Lynda Favre was nominated for “The Caring Women Award” twice and won it this year. She goes about her work very quietly with no fanfare and never expected to be honored for doing what she feels is simply the right thing to do. “This has nothing to do with me, I am just a tool that God uses here on earth to help our fellow man. I never imagined I would receive such praise and be acknowledged this way…I am speechless,” she said. She also was presented with “The Give Award” which is the Governor’s Initiative for Volunteer Excellence for 2014. “It is so wonderful to get the awareness out there so people will understand how serious this is. This is going on right here, right now and it cannot be ignored. This could happen to any one of us at any given time and you never know when things can change. Be compassionate and be kind…it could be you one day,” Lynda said.
Contact Lynda at 228-229-8980. The website is shepherdofthegulf.org which is full of information about the wonderful work Lynda does and how you can help. Go To Places Monthly proudly honors this remarkable woman as our Mover and Shaker for the month of May.

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