Winder native Shane Whelchel realizes he has a blessed and fortunate life today, but that was not always the case.
He battled the demons of drug addiction that he says drove him to virtual homelessness, conquered them through his new-found Christian faith, got ordained and became a successful businessman as owner of Agape Ink Tattoos on Atlanta Highway.
“God really takes care of us, and I live a really good life now,” said Whelchel, who is engaged and has a son. “People can see material wealth there, but the experiences I’ve been through are priceless. One of the things that makes me a rich man is God has changed my heart. There’s nothing I have materialistically that I wouldn’t walk away from today if it could help save a life.”
With that in mind, Whelchel will be opening up his shop at 669 Atlanta Highway Southeast in Winder to the community on Sunday — Christmas Day — to provide meals to the less fortunate.
The store will open at 5 p.m. and Whelchel is hoping that people who aren’t able to afford a Christmas dinner, those who are sick, those recovering from addiction and single mothers or families with children who can’t afford gifts will be able to attend and share fellowship.
Whelchel, his family and staff will also be providing Christmas gifts to children who come.
As of last week, about 50 people had signed up on Facebook to attend the dinner, which Whelchel said he gained the inspiration for while attending church recently.
“The preacher’s message was what to do when your cup runneth over,” Whelchel said. “And it hit me when we were having lunch that day. I need to give it out and show Him I can be responsible with my fortune. I was born in Winder and this is my hometown. I just want to give back to those who are in need. No one should have to go hungry on Christmas and no child should have to go without a gift so I wanted to do something to reach out those people who need a helping hand.”
Many of the gifts were donated in honor of veteran Bill Gordon, who was killed in a motorcycle wreck in Winder in July.
“He was a great man with a huge heart who got me into sponsoring all the (local) AMVET and Military Riders of Georgia charity events to provide for veterans and their families,” Whelchel said.
Whelchel has requested that anyone interested in attending the dinner contact him at 470-422-9608 so he can get a proper head count.
He also has asked for anyone planning to bring children to notify him of how many and their ages so he can have enough gifts on hand.
Whelchel, who opened the tattoo shop in September 2012, said he has worked to reverse a common stigma associated with the business.
“I worked hard to make it a family-friendly environment,” he said.
“You’re not going to find any drugs or alcohol there. We have a kids play station there and center it around families. A lot of times a person or a couple may want a tattoo and they don’t have anything to do there with their kids.
“But that’s what we are about here.”
Above all, Whelchel hopes the dinner will not only serve as a way to feed the less fortunate, but also perhaps the first step toward healing some people or helping them overcome their own struggles.
“I’ve had a wonderful journey,” he said. “I’ve had my fair share of stumbles, but life is wonderful. My recovery came through a lot of listening, guidance and prayer.
“It’s His perfect, unconditional love that got me through. I want to share that message and my story with everyone who comes (Sunday).
“The best way to keep my serenity and put my faith into action is to share it with others.”
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