PARKINS

Tom Parkins, one of the founders of the Newark Empowerment Center, provides homeless people with a caring listening ear, along with food and other basic needs.

When Tom Parkins walked past a homeless man around 35 years ago, his son said something that would change the Newarker’s life.

“My young son said, ‘But Dad, Jesus said we’re supposed to give to the poor,’” Parkins recalled. “I failed my son. I failed to live my faith.”

After that moment, Parkins began volunteering with the Salvation Army, leading to him eventually becoming one of the founding volunteers of the Newark Empowerment Center. Parkins found that the relationships he has built with people matter as much as the food and clothes he gives them.

“I can give a guy a sandwich and fill his belly, but it really comes down to sitting and caring as much as it does feeding and clothing.” Parkins said.

Parkins is so well-known for his work that the authorities once relied on him to identify the body of a homeless person who died.

“We were glad we had a funeral for him,” Parkins said. “You’re glad you can do something to add a little dignity to life.”

Parkins spends much of his volunteer time helping people access services, such as waiting with them at the food bank or assisting them with navigating the doctor’s office as they wait to receive care.

Every year, the Newark Empowerment Center hosts a Christmas Eve celebration, giving out Wawa gift cards and other items. Even after gaining jobs and a place to stay, some formerly homeless people still attend those events, often wanting to give back to help others the way Parkins helped them.

Parkins remembers an interaction with one such gentleman.

“He gave me this Wawa card and said, ‘Tom you helped me out, now it’s time for me to help somebody else out,’” Parkins said.

–Matt Hooke

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