Two cans of pork and beans, a bag of rice, and four bounced checks — that’s what Bobbie Rooker encountered when she took over in 1992 as Madison County’s Action Coordinator, which included overseeing food services for those in need.

Assistance for needy Madison County, Georgia residents was sparse 30 years ago. But that’s changed in a big way over the past three decades. These days, the food bank shelves are stocked with food and much more.

Many empty stomachs have been filled in this rural community thanks to a community rallying behind Rooker and her quest to feed the hungry. Two leaders of that effort are Mark and Anne Lackey of HireSmart Cares, who assist in a variety of ways. The Highway 98 facility in Danielsville is heated and cooled thanks to a new air conditioning unit donated by HireSmart. The Lackeys also make noteworthy monetary donations on a regular basis.

And, of course, there are the blue bags filled with food, clothes, household items — whatever the needy might need. Mark and Anne have attended countless conferences over the years, speaking and passing out blue bags for conference attendees to carry various goodies received at the gatherings.

Well, those bags serve another purpose — carrying sustenance for those down on their luck. The Lackeys stuff the blue bags full, then drop them off with Rooker and her assistant, Leann McMullan.

Rooker said the Lackeys’ donation of the air unit, the food, the funds, the clothes — it all adds up. It shows HireSmart Cares does indeed care.

“Those regular contributions are the glue that holds us together,” said Rooker of HireSmart’s efforts.

The Lackeys’ support for the food bank is nothing new. They’ve always made basic sustenance for the needy a focal point, giving frequent and substantial donations to the Norcross Cooperative Ministries and the Jacksonville Downtown Ecumenical Service Council.

“We’ve always helped the food bank wherever we are locally,” said Anne. “We know that if people don’t eat, nothing else matters. If your basic needs aren’t met, you cannot be a productive member of society, period. When we started out, we didn’t have much. But what we did have typically would go there because we knew it would have the greatest impact.”

The donations tie directly into HireSmart Cares’ big mission: helping kids.

Rooker said seeing a child going hungry is heartbreaking, but it’s a common sight.

“It’s tough when you see somebody, and they’re living in their car, and the car is piled up, and they’re trying to get food, and that kid is grabbing for what you’re handing him because he’s hungry,” she said. “How can you go to school and learn when you haven’t had any breakfast? How can you sit there in school and listen when you don’t know where you’ll be when it gets dark?”

Rooker also launched the county’s Christmas toy program that provides toys on Christmas morning for needy children. The program will be 30 years old next year and will serve 178 local children this year. The donations from the Lackeys help brighten Christmas morning for those children.

Of course, people across the age spectrum struggle. Rooker sees veterans in dire straits, too.

“It breaks my heart to think our veterans are not looked after,” she said. “They really aren’t. We have some that come in, and they can’t buy their medicines, and they don’t have enough food. That’s who fought for our freedom, and it just infuriates me.”

Older residents often find it tough to ask for help, Rooker said.

“I had one client come in the last six weeks,” she said. “He said, ‘I’ve never had to ask for food,’ When you see a person over 60 asking for food, it takes a lot of their pride away. It really does, and he actually had tears and said, ‘I need to eat.’ And I said, ‘We’ve got food. That’s why we’re here.’ He said, ‘Do you have anything that I can do? Can I help you do something?’ He wasn’t able to do that. He could hardly get up the ramp, but he wanted to try to give back. And three weeks ago, he brought me a $20 check. And I took it because it would have broken his heart if I hadn’t.”

Rooker has heard so many stories from those hungry and hurting. It gets to her. And she occasionally drives home and throws a rock to let out some of that pain. Rooker is a rock lover, and her late husband, Bill, would joke with her about having to pick up rocks wherever they went.

“Bill used to say every time we went on a trip, ‘I know, you want to bring back some rocks,’” she said. “He’d say, ‘Look, there’s a pretty rock.’”

And she’d go pick it up.

She still holds the rocks, thinking of the past and contemplating today’s world, which is truly harsh for so many.

“I see a lot,” she said of her work at the food bank. “Sometimes I have to go home and dig a hole in the dirt or throw some rocks across the field. My place is full of rocks. Whoever gets my house will wonder who in the world brought all these rocks here.”

Rooker has endured her own hardships, too. She lost both sons over the past decade, with her younger son, Mickey, passing away in 2013, and the older son, Clay, in 2018. Mickey’s son, Justin, lives with her and accompanies her at the food bank. Look up at the walls of the food bank, and you’ll see elaborate puzzles that were pieced together by Justin. He listens to his Travis Tritt albums, makes cards for people, talks to those who show up needing food and often helps load their cars.

“He (Justin) makes it a better place here,” said assistant food bank director Leann McMullan.

McMullan says the same about Bobbie Rooker. She said the food bank isn’t just a place for those in need to find some physical sustenance but a spot they find a kind soul who listens.

“She is like a counselor,” said McMullan. “People come in, and they just go off, not in a bad way. ‘My husband has cancer.’ ‘My sister’s died.’ And she’s lost a lot and has a lot of experience. So she can relate to it in a way that I can’t. I haven’t gone through the same life experiences she has. So she can understand how they feel, talk to and relate to them, and I think they feel better when they leave.”

Rooker said it’s necessary for a community to be compassionate and to do its best to lift people up when they’re down. And she said Madison County shines these days with the way Mark and Anne support the food bank, along with others.

“I’ve been to conferences and seen all directors and counties coming together, and from just listening, I’ve always left with, ‘You mean Madison County, you do all that? You’ve got that much support?’ Yeah, we do, we have that much support,’” she said.

With support from HireSmart Cares and others in the community, Madison County has come a long way from two cans of pork and beans, a bag of rice, and four bounced checks.

The shelves are stocked and hurting people are getting what they need.

The relief often arrives by blue bag.

When Typhoon Rai (also known as Typhoon Odette) hit the Philippines in December 2021, a number of HireSmart Virtual Employees felt the pain, suffering damage to their homes and a sharp deterioration in their living conditions. But HireSmart Cares, the non-profit philanthropic arm of the HireSmart team, quickly let the storm victims know they weren’t alone, offering assistance in a variety of ways to help employees get their lives back. Here’s Bernard’s story:

Bernard and his wife prepared for the approaching typhoon. They filled up their generator and stocked up on supplies and batteries. Then they waited. The morning of Typhoon Odette in the Philippines shortly before Christmas in 2021 was very calm.

Bernard and his wife, who live in Cebu, carried on with their normal routine, which involves working for U.S. clients as virtual employees for HireSmart Virtual Employees. They cared for their 6-year-old daughter and made sure the family dog was walked and fed.

But then the sun went down.

“At nighttime, it went bang,” said Bernard.

The wind howled, the roof rattled, and trees broke apart. Bernard worried about the rising water in a river that was only a few feet from his home.

“We were afraid of the upstairs,” he said. “Maybe the roof would fall off or fly off. And basically, we stayed downstairs. My daughter slept through the whole thing, no problem at all. My wife kept bugging me, asking me to check to see if the internet is back. We have a generator, so we were good in terms of the electricity, but she was like, check the internet and see if it comes back, we need to go back to work.”

The house withstood the storm’s punch. But when the sun rose, Bernard walked outside.

“Devastation everywhere,” he said. “There was a lot of clutter and property damage.”

Power poles were down and blocking the roads. There was no electricity, no internet.

“We had to wait for the electric company to try and lift the posts up so that people can drive by,” he said. “That was really a thing that hit me, oh my God, this is going to be big. This is not going to last like a week. This is going to be a whole month thing or something like that before everything gets fixed.”

On a typical day, Bernard handles administrative work for a solid waste management agency in the U.S. He works out at a gym, walks his dog, and spends time with his daughter. After the storm, the old routines gave way to new ones.

“We have to go to wells, or what they call here a pump, so we go there every morning, wake up at about 2 a.m., get the car, get all of our containers for water, five-gallon containers,” said Bernard. “We go to a spot to get water, we pump it, then go back home. And then afterward, we need to line up for gas. We needed gas for that generator. By the time we’re done with the water around 4, you need to line up for gas, and the line was two or three miles long.”

Bernard said people in his area stuck together, despite the hardship.

“Here in our area, all of us came together,” he said. “We even had people buying foodstuff, and then we’d all cook it in the morning, then we all shared the meal.”

But both Bernard and his wife were desperate to get back to work serving their U.S. clients, and there was no internet service to be found.

Thirteen time zones away, Mark and Anne Lackey, owners of HireSmart Virtual Employees and HireSmart Cares, were getting the news of what was happening in the Philippines. They were busy locating employees who had lost internet service. When contact was made, they inquired about their health and their living conditions: What do you need? How can we help?

In all, HireSmart assisted 31 families, replacing roofs for a number whose homes had suffered major damage, paying for temporary housing, and covering costs of computer equipment and a variety of other needs.

Bernard and his family needed a place to stay that had internet services. So HireSmart paid a month’s rent for an apartment about an hour’s drive north of their home.

“My wife and I are really grateful that we’re here at HireSmart,” said Bernard. “And we know that they always have our back and always support us in the things that we need, especially in times of trouble. Here at HireSmart, Anne basically said we’re all a family. It’s not just like you going to a job with your family at home. People help you when you are in need.”

Bernard said his clients at the solid waste agency were great, too. During the week between the storm and getting an apartment, Bernard was unable to perform his duties for the solid waste company, but the firm paid his salary anyway.

“They’re treating me like part of the family as well,” he said.

Bernard and his family went back to their home after the electricity was restored. But their internet was out for three months.

“Gladly, one of our neighbors has a different connection that was restored prior to all of our other connections,” he said. “So we actually hooked up so we could work.”

He said the typhoon experience was a learning experience.

“The one thing that I learned from it is basically anything like that can happen in your life,” said Bernard. “Bad things can happen in your life, not just a typhoon, maybe a family death. But as long as you have the right people behind you and you have the right mindset to move past it, then you’ll be good. You’re going to be all good, no worries.”

We have the honor and pleasure to provide support to Filipinos who were affected by Typhoon Ria in December 2021.

We will be adding updates and support to this page as we have progress. Every dollar counts. If you can, please consider helping. 100% of any donations will go to those in need. Mark & Anne are donating their time to have the most impact and do the most good.

You can send funds via PayPal to or mail a check to HireSmart Cares, PO Box 923116, Peachtree Corners, GA 30010 & mark for Typhoon Ria Support. Thank you!