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story.lead_photo.caption Carolyn’s Helping Hands, a nonprofit in Searcy that assists those in need with food-pantry items, clothing and furniture, was named after Carolyn Warren, who died in December. Pictured, in the front row, are two of Warren’s grandchildren, Keegan Wilson, 11, and John Luke Wilson, 6; and in back, from left, granddaughter Kenley Wilson, 15; Warren’s two daughters, Shonya Wilson and her husband, Witt Wilson, and Shianna Cowell; and family friend Melissa Cox. ( Staci Vandagriff)

Carolyn Warren always believed people deserve a second chance, no matter the situation.

“One time, someone stole my mom’s checkbook and wrote thousands of dollars in hot checks, and my mom defended her in court,” said Warren’s daughter, Shianna Cowell. “When we were growing up, we lived in a mobile home, and there were holes in the floor, but people would still come and ask for food or whatever they needed.

“We didn’t have anything, but my mom would help anyone.”

Cowell has owned a cleaning business for more than 10 years, and it employs about 60 people. She said the women who work for her are single moms and are typically always in need. The business provides financial help to purchase pantry items, clothing and furniture for people in need.

“We do the pantry because we love people,” Cowell said. “The cleaning business provides for the pantry if it doesn’t have the funds or the donations. The cleaning business pays if there is a need.”

She said the pantry has been operational for 10 years, but about a year ago, she was able to move the cleaning business to a separate building, leaving the building at 109 Research Drive in Searcy completely free for the donated items.

“We had a food bank in the back, but our office was there, so we didn’t want to announce it, have people show up unexpectedly,” she said. “We never had a name for it.”

Cowell’s mom died on Dec. 22 last year, and immediately after Warren died, Cowell said, she knew she would name the building after her mom.

“So we named it Carolyn’s Helping Hands, and we filed for nonprofit status and made it legit,” Cowell said. “Right when we started doing that is when COVID-19 hit, and working people who just lost their jobs needed food.

“My mom got an award for Employee of the Year once, but she was never recognized for all she did behind the scenes that no one knew about. This building has brought so much honor to her and has given people a second chance.”

Cowell estimates that the pantry has fed about 100 families during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that at one point, The River church in Searcy had to chip in and fill the pantry and its freezer back up, because the shelves were empty.

“Literally, less than a month ago, we furnished an entire house for one woman,” she said. “We gave her a bed, bedding and a kid’s bed, and it is not abnormal for us to do that.

“I’m terrible about giving away everything.”

Warren, who worked for the Department of Human Services for more than 20 years, died as a result of complications from knee surgery. At Warren’s memorial service, Cowell said, foster kids stood up and said they made it through the system because of her mom.

“My mom changed lives, and really because of what she did, it is what we were taught to do — to help those who lost their way and can’t get a break,” Cowell said. “For example, if someone gets out of a treatment center or jail and can’t find housing, or can’t get their water turned on or don’t have any food to eat, they tend to go to a life of addiction or stealing.

“But if they get that fresh wind and support, they stay focused and on the right path.”

Cowell said that when those in need see people truly care about them, they feel relieved or refreshed.

“That’s all we are trying to do,” she said.

Tabitha Mullins, who was involved in a DHS case five years ago, sent Cowell a message praising her mom and how she encouraged Mullins and helped her during the lowest point in her life.

“I am so happy you are keeping your mom’s legacy alive,” Mullins said. “Your mom was the only reason I kept going and remained strong. Your mother was an angel.

“She was always so encouraging and so kind and never judged me and truly loved my kids. … I know she never knew how much of a difference she made in my life, but she sure was the main reason I didn’t give up hope and got my life together. She was my hope in a hopeless situation.”

“I always knew how special my mom was, but it amazes me now that the world gets to see how amazing she was,” Cowell said.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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