Living on the streets, wearing the same clothes, begging for a handout while trying not to give out, has made Foskey a woman whose empathy and understanding of the homeless is driven by her own personal experience and past agony.
Now that she has made a 180 degree turn in her lifestyle, the 47-year-old charity worker is all about helping the underprivileged with a ministry focused on providing food and clothing for the needy at a cost even the homeless can afford.
Foskey admits, “I used to be homeless. I used to be a drug addict and an alcoholic. I thought there was nothing in this world worth anything — not people, not things — nothing.
“When God turned my life around and took me off the streets — delivering me from alcoholism and drug addiction — I truly began to understand the (Bible) verse about not storing up treasures on the earth where moth and rust corrupt, but to store up treasures in heaven. All my treasure is stored in heaven.”
Foskey, who describes herself as “not religious, but redeemed,” decided to open up a thrift store, Heavenly Treasures, to help the homeless, the poor and the underprivileged at a time in which she insists many churches are not living up to their responsibility to care for the poor.
“I see in the church realm so many needs that go unmet,” she said. “I’ve watched homeless people walk into churches and walk out without their needs met. That should not be. Jesus said feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the sick, take care of the widows and the fatherless — that’s our job. Well, the church is not doing their job, and I see that. That’s why I say I’m not religious. I’m redeemed.”
While she attends a Church of God in Cleveland, Foskey says denominations are not what interest her, only helping people.
“I travel to a lot of different churches. I’m not a member of the Church of God. I don’t care about denominations. I’ve preached in Baptist churches and Methodist churches.
“Through experiencing first-hand the pain that is out there in the world — how many people are doing without — I mean, you may sit down beside someone and that person don’t even know what they’re going to eat that night. They may look like they’ve got it all together but really they don’t. I’ve been there.”
Foskey then broke down in tears as she searched for the words to describe the privilege she felt to be used to help the needy, calling it “such a blessing I can’t even describe it.”
“I sat down and figured up if a homeless person could just beg for change and come in here with $5.10 cents — he or she can get a coat, shirt, pants, socks, shoes and underwear — for $5.10.”
“Every blouse and shirt in this place — men, women, boys and girls — is 50 cents. The most expensive thing in here is $10 and it’s a treadmill on the porch. Pants, including jeans, are 1 dollar all the way down to a toddler. Then they become 50 cents.
“All suits — we’re talking American Eagle, Aeropostale, Faded Glory — are only $3. We’ve got some nice things in this shop! All shoes for adults are $1. All kids shoes are 50 cents. Coats are $2. Jackets and sweaters are $1.”
Foskey added, “My husband, Johnny, and I dedicated this store to God. We don’t have any church backing. It’s just me and him. People ask me, ‘What do you do with the money?’ I tell them it pays the rent, it pays for utilities, the water, a new cash register — It goes to purchase food if we don’t get enough donations for whatever is needed. It’s all going back into the ministry.
“Johnny works for Pro-Coat, a paint company out of Chattanooga. He also does Bobcat work. We have a garden and we can vegetables. We do whatever we have to.”
According to Foskey, 95 percent of their items in Heavenly Treasures is donated and in very good condition. She said she personally inspects each item to make sure she is offering the best she has, “because God has given us the best He has.
“I’m also starting up a nonperishable food bank for emergencies only,” she said. “A lot of your food banks won’t help you if you’re not living in their county. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to help anybody who needs help.”
The Athens native said she originally opened Heavenly Treasures three years ago in Sweetwater, but then she and her husband were suddenly called on to care for their newborn granddaughter.
“I had to shut it down,” she said. “We reopened in Cleveland less than two weeks ago.”
Although her thrift store may prove to be a blessing to the needy, Foskey said there is something she needs from the community.
“I need volunteers — people who are willing to come in and give of their time to help out so I can go out and visit the churches and talk to the pastors,” she said.
“I would love to ask them if they will put a toy box or food box in the churches to collect toys and food for children for Christmas. But I’m tied here. I’m also in desperate need of a storage building. I would even consider a trailer off a tractor-trailer. I need nonperishable foods and toys and I’m willing to pick up these donations.”
Raising two grandchildren, running a store and collecting donations are all part of the life and ministry of Sharon and Johnnie Foskey who said they are excited to be in Cleveland and meet the people here.
“We have seven children and will soon have 14 grandchildren in January,” said Foskey. “My husband and I just want to be used to help those in need. We chose Cleveland as the best centrally located area for this ministry.”
For further information, contact Sharon Foskey at 423-728-2211 or 255-2688. Heavenly Treasures, located at 2537 Harrison Pike, is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.