A Biblical account of friendship, compassion and endless generosity inspired a Zachary police officer to form an organization solely dedicated to meeting the needs of local families touched by loss, tragedy and disaster.
Zachary Police Sgt. Justin Nevels has been in law enforcement for more than two decades, but his spare time has always been filled with community service and outreach efforts. He formed Jonathan’s Closet at the end of the summer as a way for volunteers to gather and distribute clothes and other household items to families hit with sudden loss after fires, storms and personal crises.
Nevels grew up in Norwood and worked in West and East Feliciana law enforcement agencies before joining the Zachary Police Department in 2008. He serves as the supervisor of the school resource officers and his beat is Zachary High. His assignment allows for a preventative role and not just enforcement after young people get in trouble.
He is a man of quiet, but visible faith who patterned the outreach efforts from the story of friendship and sacrifice found in the Bible passage 1 Samuel. Jonathan, son of Israel’s king, was a close friend of David, a man who later became king and the most legendary leader of the Hebrew nation. Instead of the expected rivalry, Jonathan made a covenant or vow to David. As an act of friendship and sacrifice, he gave the future king everything, down to the clothes off his back, in his testament of loyalty and caring.
One of the group’s mantras comes from 1 Samuel 18:3-4: “Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”
Nevels said he hopes the group can reflect that mindset. “It's all about helping those that are in need and giving to those that are in need,” he said.
Jonathan’s Closet had a precursor, Zachary Caring and Sharing, a social media group that listed items needed or offered to share items at no charge. As the need and offerings grew, Nevels looked for ways to gather and store items that could be a “one-stop-shop” for a family in need. In addition, people wanted to give to a group, unlike Good Will or Salvation Army, that would not resale donated items.
Jonathan’s Closet is physically stored in a unit at Zachary Storage Solutions. The members of the group volunteer during workdays to organize and stock the closet. “We're storing it up and having it available for these people whenever they become in need,” Nevels said. “We may have people that are donating to us now, but they may be the very people that we're serving next week or next month.”
The clothes, furniture and household items help families with often varying needs. Nevels said the group has helped families restock households as well as helping grandparents who find themselves in full-time care of grandchildren. “There have been fires, floods — you know, natural disasters — where they've lost pretty much everything,” Nevels said, adding, “we just want to make sure that it's need and not greed.”
The outpouring of concern has often amazed Nevels, such as the case of a family who lost a lot when their house flooded. A mother couldn’t think of much needed, but she mentioned that her young son had lost a large collection of Legos. Nevels put the word out and the Lego tsunami ensued. “You would be surprised at the outpouring of Legos,” he said. “And I'm not talking about just used Legos. These are people that took to Amazon and placed orders and had them shipped to his house.”
“That's just the type of people that we have in this community and that message is often lost,” Nevels explained “You hear all the negative things that go on in the world, but you very rarely hear of the good people that are willing to do so much. That's so unfortunate, because our world really is full of so many good, caring, loving people, and they don't care who you are. They're just led by the Lord to take care of other people.”