Ask people in St. Clair County, and they will tell you Ragland’s Eleanor Clinkscales is the perfect example of a volunteer and someone who cares about those less fortunate — especially children.
At least five times a year, Clinkscales is busy making sure students have school supplies, coats during the winter, food at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas. And it is something she has been doing almost a quarter of a century.
Born in 1931 in Birmingham, Clinkscales has lived in St. Clair County since 1952 when she moved into the Moody area. She and her husband, Gordon Clinkscales, lived in Moody for about 10 years before moving to Ragland.
“Gordon was my helper,” Clinkscales said. “But he has been dead eight years now. We were married almost 50 years.”
It was while on vacation in Cuernavaca, Mexico, 24 years ago that Clinkscales said God spoke to her.
“Gordon collected knives, and he wanted knives from the Maya Indians,” she said. “We went up to where they were selling the knives, and when we left, we decided to walk back to where we were staying because the people in Mexico eat very late at night. They may eat supper at 10 p.m. We decided to walk down the railroad tracks, and I saw poverty like I’d never seen before.”
Clinkscales said she saw people living in cardboard boxes with one outside spigot for water and no sanitation.
“The Lord spoke to me right then and there,” she said, “but I told Him to get somebody else because I had not been poor in a long time. The Lord persisted and when I finally gave in, I did not take a chance on me knowing what I needed to do just by myself. I went around to food banks, to people who dealt with the poor, and asked questions. I wanted to know what worked and what did not work.”
It was in 1987 when Clinkscales, then 56, started helping the needy people of St. Clair County.
She had previously worked at a law firm in Birmingham for many years.
As the county has grown through the years, so has the number of needy families.
“I had no idea how to do this, but I talked to people who had done charity work,” Clinkscales said. “It has worked through the years, and I have people I can call on anywhere in this county. People have been good to me. They have been very generous to me. I want them to see what and where their money goes. Their money has always been spent for toys, food, clothing or school supplies.”
The Rev. Bobby Parker, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, said he has known Clinkscales the past 15 years and that she is very bold in seeking help.
“The needs she runs into are bigger than she is, but not bigger than her resources she taps into,” Parker said. “The reason she is so bold is she feels that the entire world should help her. That’s how passionate she is about helping people.”
Parker said you just can’t say no to Clinkscales.
“Saying no to her is like saying no to those she is concerned about and has compassion for,” Parker said. “You are not giving to her. You are giving to the Lord and to the needs of the world.”
Clinkscales just completed a project in which she helped 200 children have toys for Christmas and also put together 154 food baskets for needy families during the Christmas holidays.
Each year, Clinkscales puts together Easter food baskets, school supplies for students, jackets for students during the winter, Thanksgiving food baskets, Toys for Kids and Christmas food baskets.
Clinkscales is a member of Refuge Baptist Church and her pastor is Phillip Brown.
“Her work is year-round,” Brown said. “She works aimlessly and tirelessly finding these people who are in need. She is such an asset to our church. She does not give up and does not take no for an answer. If it is only one child she helps, then she is going to help that one child. She is a wonderful Christian lady and my best friend. She gives all the glory to God. One thing we could all learn from her is to persevere and let God do his part. I know in her life there has been a lot of sacrifice for what she does. I am honored she is my friend and part of this community.”
“If I can help in some way, I want to do so,” Clinkscales said. “One of the most touching situations I have seen in these past 24 years took place just last week. We were attempting to find toys for a little girl with no arms and one twisted leg. It has been difficult to find toys this child can play with. Being able to do so was a blessing to me. She’s a happy child and a pretty child.”
One volunteer who has been with Clinkscales everywhere she goes during the past year is Inez Burchfield.
“She helped me put my life back in order and has provided me sanity,” Burchfield said. “If I didn’t have her right now, there is no telling where I’d be. She got me back in church and got me involved in helping others. She is one of the best friends I have.”
When asked how much longer she will be able to continue helping those who are less fortunate, Clinkscales smiled and said, “Well, I am getting old and do not know what the Lord has in mind. I’ve always said I would like to live to be 150.”
Parker said Clinkscales’ age is not something that limits her in her work.
Clinkscales said the greatest blessing is when people call her and ask what they can do and they come through for her.
“The people of St. Clair County are very generous,” she said. “We do have a lot of unemployment now, and that is a problem. But those who do have jobs and money have been willing to help us.”
Contact Gary Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.