Linda Keisler left a comfortable manager’s job at BellSouth because it was God’s will. She ended up in Cayce and now helps over 200 people a month. It was a hard sell for her and her family, but after 19 years, Keisler has established God’s Helping Hands as Cayce’s and West Columbia’s go-to charity.
By Colin Demarest
Dec. 2, 2015
After 19 years of helping others before herself, Linda Keisler is known in Cayce and West Columbia as a safety net for those in danger of falling too deep into poverty’s grasp.
As director of God’s Helping Hands, Keisler has fed the hungry, clothed families and provided emergency medication to those in need.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to know that you’ve put a smile on someone’s face,” she said.
Keisler could have stayed in a comfortable job as a phone company manager. But one day, she said, she got a calling to do something else after a Sunday sermon. Its message, she said, was “sometimes we’re not doing what God intended for us to do in life.”
On the way home from church, Keisler announced to her husband and high school-age son that God was leading her to an early retirement.
At 50, she went to beauty school – a lifelong dream – and began helping Alzheimer’s patients by styling their hair.
But when the directors of God’s Helping Hands asked Keisler to head the charity, she said, it was God’s answer to her prayers.
God, she said, had intended her to help those in an area where the median household income of $43,776 is about $1,000 less than the state’s average and where about 21 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to census figures.
Numbers and figures, though, barely interest Keisler, who focuses more on the neighborhoods and the people who need help.
Fifteen local churches support God’s Helping Hands. Keisler said she doesn’t want government foods or funding “because I don’t ever want to be able to tell somebody ‘I can’t pray with you.’ ”
The people she helps say their relationship with Keisler is more akin to family than to assistance.
“She is understanding, caring, intelligent – compassionate,” said Lynne Fowler, a woman whom Keisler helps quite often. “She makes it feel like you aren’t being helped.”
After recent surgery, Fowler couldn’t afford toilet paper. Keisler provided toilet paper, groceries and even prepared meals.
Columbia Voice sat down with Keisler to talk about her 19 years of running the charity. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
(Listen to the entire interview.)
You said that the middle of the month is the most pressing time?
Either the middle of the month, and, also, the end of the month. We have some slack periods, not to say people don’t come into us during that time, – they do – but not like they do when those final notices from the power company gets out.
So it’s basically one big community effort? It’s like a crowd-funded kind of deal?
Exactly. It’s churches. And some of our churches donate to us every month, just like they would pay their light bill or whatever. … Let me do make sure this is understood. God’s Helping Hands is a coalition of churches. We receive no government funds at all. We operate 100 percent on donations. … We don’t want government foods in here. We don’t want to ever have to go by their guidelines. I don’t ever want to be able to tell somebody I can’t pray with you, you know?
What made you want to do this? Because this work is not for everybody.
No it isn’t. And I sometimes sit back and wonder, “Why does God let me do this?” I don’t feel deserving. You know whenever you do something for someone? That makes you feel good, right? It does. … It’s the best feeling in the world, to know that you’ve put a smile on someone’s face. You’ve helped them in some way. And I sometimes say, “you know, God, Lord, you know, why are you letting me get this every day?” … And I don’t really know why God chose me, but I know he chose me. …
I thought about, well, maybe He just wants me to go and volunteer. But I couldn’t, I just felt like it was something more than just volunteering. … And when I came down here, I knew, the first day down here, when I walked in that door, He was beside me. …
Either way, you knew this was home?
I knew it was. I knew it was home. … And my husband, my new husband, keeps asking me “Linda, how are you going to work?” … But anyway, I keep telling him “God put me there, and He’ll tell me when to leave.” Well, I’m still here. He hasn’t told me yet to leave. … But I will tell you. I will not – I don’t play numbers. I want to help people. But I want to help the people I need to be helping.