The old woman carried all of belongings in a junked shopping cart.
It was a detail Michael McClendon noticed on the evening of Oct. 1, as he walked into the Winn Dixie at Lanier Plaza in Brunswick.
When he came back out, the woman was yelling for help, under attack allegedly from a very tall and very angry man.
McClendon stepped unflinchingly into the fray, trading harsh words and stiff blows with the alleged assailant in a dustup that was brief, but effective. Once the alleged attacker went away, Michael McClendon Jr. noticed a blood stain spreading on the chest of his father’s shirt.
After being released from Shands Memorial Medical Center in Jacksonville a few days later, McClendon had two things to stress about the incident: No, he is not a hero; and, yes, he would do it again.
By his way of thinking, the Chattanooga, Tenn., resident’s faith tells him that sticking up for the weak and defenseless among us should be the rule, and not the exception.
“I’ve had a thousand people tell me that I’m a hero,” McClendon said Monday. “I’m not a hero. I did what everybody should do. Everybody should do what I did. What some folks have called above and beyond should be the norm. It should be abnormal not to do anything in that situation.”
It appears McClendon and his attitude of reaching out at all costs to those in need will be a part of the Golden Isles well into 2018, at least. His tree service and roofing company is booked solid with work repairing home damage caused by the ravages of the storm called Irma. And along with his business McClendon said he will bring his outreach mission. Whatever It Takes Ministry, online at facebook.com/witministry, is the softer, gentler side of McClendon’s theory of helping others. Rather than the throw of a clinched fist, the ministry extends a hand up, feeding the poor and homeless.
McClendon has a food truck he uses to feed homeless on the streets in Chattanooga, sharing his Christian faith in the process. With enough work to keep him here for at least another six months, McClendon reckons he might as well try to get a food truck up and running here.
“We’re probably going to try to move the ministry down here,” he said. “It moves with me wherever I go anyway. We set up where the help is needed, feedings kids and those in need. Nothing special, just set up and give away hot dogs. It plants the seed for me to share the message of Christ. Nobody ever went bankrupt helping somebody.”
It was not always like this. A cocaine addict who is now in recovery, a previous version of McClendon once did time in prison after getting caught stealing a car to feed his habit.
He was released on parole into the hands of a charitable-minded probation officer. After telling her he could find no way to work off his court-ordered community service, she suggested he donate his time and his company’s services to those in need. He recalls scoffing in her face at the notion of giving away something for which people readily pay good money.
“She said, ‘My question to you is why haven’t you been volunteering all along your whole life anyway,’” McClendon recalled. “I said, ‘Because I’m not rich, and I’m not stupid.’ I think that turned out to be the worst thing I ever said in my life.”
McClendon’s attitude and his life have changed considerably since then. Through church-based programs, he has been clean since 2000. Demands for his professional services are bountiful, but he makes giving back to those less fortunate a priority.
That commitment stands even at the risk of personal safety, as was the case around 7:30 p.m. two Sundays ago at Lanier Plaza. When the man allegedly refused McClendon’s commands to leave the woman alone, the confrontation became physical.
McClendon’s only concern when it ended was that the man had walked away, ending the threat to the woman. Frightened, the homeless woman slipped away later, apparently unharmed, according to the police report.
McClendon was not so fortunate.
“She was screaming, ‘Help, this guy’s hurting me!’” McClendon said. “I ran across the parking lot. We went to fighting, he stepped away. His eyes were kind of swollen. I didn’t realize I had been stuck until my son said something.”
Emergency workers took McClendon by ambulance to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital. He had a stab wound in a bicep and one in the chest that nicked his lung. Weak vital signs prompted his transfer by helicopter to Jacksonville, where he was released after several days.
Brunswick Police later that night caught Raymond Nathaniel Kirskey, 59, on the other end of the Lanier Plaza parking lot. He remained Monday in the Glynn County Detention Center, charged with aggravated assault and a felony probation violation.
McClendon is still sore. It hurts when he sneezes.
“I’m not going dancing anytime soon,” he quipped.
But he will be doing whatever he can, whenever he can, to answer the call of those in need.
“My son said, ‘I bet you won’t do that again,’” McClendon said. “I said, ‘No, son, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to stand up for weaker people.’ I don’t know any other way these days. When you help others, you will be amazed at the blessings that just pour in.”