Brenda Rhodes

Brenda Rhodes, center, founder of the nonprofit Simple Needs GA, stands with Cobb Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Mason, left, and East Cobb Area Council chair Tammy Palmgren after being named the 2018 East Cobb Citizen of the Year Thursday morning. /Special to the MDJ

Brenda Rhodes, founder of the nonprofit Simple Needs GA, was named the East Cobb Citizen of the Year Thursday morning.

Rhodes spent years volunteering with groups such as MUST Ministries, the Special Olympics and the Center for Family Resources before she started Simple Needs in 2010 as a way to collect additional resources for Cobb’s homeless population.

In 2017, the group served 2,000 residents, providing clothes, toiletries, furniture, tents, shoes and various other essentials for men, women and children without a permanent place to call home.

Rhodes was surprised with the honor Thursday morning at a breakfast hosted by the East Cobb Area Council, an offshoot of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.

By Thursday afternoon, she said it was still sinking in.

“It was definitely a surprise and an honor,” Rhodes said. “I teared up but I had to stop crying.”

She was nominated for the award by Joel Groover, a freelance writer who serves on the board of Simple Needs GA and handles the nonprofit’s communications.

Rhodes started Simple Needs after realizing there was a significant demand for toiletries and cosmetics among Cobb’s homeless who stayed at MUST Ministries’ Marietta shelter.

So she started loading duffle bags full of toiletries in her garage and asking friends and family members for help delivering them. The organization took off from there.

“She’s helped thousands of people,” Groover said, adding the organization relies on the goodness of volunteers from across the metro Atlanta region.

He said Rhodes works tirelessly to help others, often showing up at people’s homes with truckloads of furniture for families going through tough times.

It’s often women and children who are fleeing domestic violence, but don’t have the resources to furnish their homes.

“It could be a mom and her kids in an apartment with literally nothing,” Groover said. “They’re just sleeping on the floor.”

Simple Needs also collects tents, sleeping bags and tarps for the homeless population living in Cobb’s woods.

They also have a program called My Birthday Matters, where Rhodes works with social workers and school counselors to identify homeless children with upcoming birthdays.

She then finds the families, either at shelters or extended stay motels, and brings bags of goodies to the children.

Rhodes said the idea for the birthday program came from a board member whose parents ignored her birthday when she was younger because they didn’t have the money to buy her anything.

Groover said children and families on the receiving end of the kind acts are often overcome with emotion.

“What they’re responding to is the relief they feel that someone cares, that someone has thought about them and has taken an interest in how they’re doing,” Groover said. “That is the primary thing that Brenda is all about: showing these people that have such hard circumstances that there’s good in the world and there are people who care.”

Sharon Mason, president and CEO of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, called Rhodes an inspiration.

“After volunteering in our community for years, (Rhodes) saw a need and started an organization to fill in the gaps,” Mason said. “She is an inspiration to many and truly makes a difference in the lives of children and others experiencing homelessness.”

Those looking to donate or volunteer with the organization can learn more at simpleneedsga.org.

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