Atlanta man walks to White House to call attention to poverty

Terence Lester’s knees sometimes hurt. A salon owner closes her shop to go to a nearby store to buy him a poncho to protect him from the rain and makes him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

At one stop, a radio station crew buys lunch for him and two friends — Johnny Taylor and Ali Brathwaite — who are accompanying him on his trek from Atlanta to the White House to call attention to poverty and homelessness.

Each step is caught on video.

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As he makes his way to South Carolina, strangers walk alongside him, offering food, hotel rooms or a sofa. Most nights, they sleep in the black-and-red bus that trails Lester as he walks.

It’s been nearly two weeks since Lester, founder of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Love Beyond Walls, started walking on the “March Against Poverty 2016.”

Some days are better than others. Mental exertion, sore knees, exhaustion and temperatures soaring above 90 degrees constantly test him. He wishes he had bought more comfortable shoes. Or rented an RV instead of taking the donated bus, which his nonprofit uses as a mobile hygiene station and barber shop for the homeless but is now being used as a place to sleep for Lester and the others.

I’m going to press through, though,” said the 33-year-old teaching pastor at Vinings Church in Smyrna.

He keeps walking. By his count, his journey will take 648 miles. He expects to reach Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20.

“In order to help people out of the pits of poverty, somebody has to sacrifice something,” Lester said in a video he shared on social media.

He has started a GoFundMe page that has raised about $5,000 so far for his nonprofit. People are able to pinpoint his location using the app Glympse.

Along the way, he’s been dismayed to see abandoned houses that could be used to shelter the homeless.

According to the Center for American Progress’ 2015 Talk Poverty Report, 18.4 percent of Georgians had incomes below the poverty line ($23,834 for a family of four) in 2014.

Not long ago, Lester was working at the nonprofit when an elderly woman stopped by.

The woman had walked 7 miles because she heard the Atlanta nonprofit was giving away food. She was hungry. After all her bills were paid, she had about $80 to live on for the month.

“People like her struggle to make ends meet,” he said. “Many are considered the working poor. They’re busting their butts and, literally, at the end of the day, they’re coming up short.”

In Washington, he will meet with members of another nonprofit and visit a shelter. A documentary about the project is in the works.

“I want to make a statement that our country can do more to help people who are poor,” he said.

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