Five years ago, Jeff was living “under the bridge” in Aberdeen, WA, homeless and a self-described addict. He sometimes scavenged for food in trash cans to stay alive but knew he could find a warm welcome and one meal a day at the CCS Feed the Hungry program, where volunteers serve hot lunches to over a hundred people five days a week.
“Jeff is a patron of ours, who has been coming to have lunch with us for years, an instant friend to most. His goal had always been to get off drugs and stay clean. We worked with him to boost his self-esteem, and he helped us out when he could,” recalls Cher Spencer, Program Manager for Feed the Hungry. Volunteers worked with her to support Jeff, even after a devastating relapse when he lost the new place they had helped him to put together.
“They never gave up on me. Those people showed how much they care about the homeless and drug-addicted community. They were the first to treat me and others like human beings,” Jeff reflects today.”It’s not just a place to get food to sustain life. It’s a place to gain inspiration and a leg-up in life.”
Cher credits the 36-year-old program’s success to its lack of barriers or qualifications for lunch guests. “There is such a taboo around talking about hunger; no one likes to admit they need help. That’s why no-barrier is so important. I tell guests, ‘I’d like to know your name, but you don’t need to give it.’ This program matters because we don’t just feed people experiencing homelessness. We average 100 meals a day, including quite a few families. In the last year or so, we’ve seen more caregivers who get to-go containers for people who don’t have much at home—like one lady who stops to get lunch for her kids every day. People really depend on it, more than the average person could know.”
Volunteer crews rotate throughout the week and are free to improvise meals from whatever is in the kitchen, including donations from local merchants, the Coastal Harbor Food Distribution Center, and volunteer pick-ups at the local Walmart, Safeway, and Grocery Outlet. “I love community partners,” confides Cher, who is the sole staff person for the program.
Cher also loves her volunteers, including Judy Bell, 86 years old, who runs the Thursday crew and has been with the program since its beginning as an outreach program at St. Mary’s Church. Volunteers of every age create and serve each meal; some, like Jim Boyd, check in weekly to find out what is needed—bananas, tomatoes, bread. “He gets the BEST bread,” according to Cher.
Back to Jeff. Thankfully, he recovered and has been clean and sober for 3.5 years. He is the manager of a sober house and reaches out to individuals struggling with homelessness and addiction in the course of his daily life.
Two years ago, he was instrumental in getting a local community program to open a cold-weather shelter. Last year, he went to Washington, DC, to represent Grays Harbor, one of several pilot sites for a US Dept of Justice initiative on Responses to the Opioid Epidemic. Jeff was the only former “user” among the national gathering of justice and law enforcement representatives.
Today, Jeff is a proud Harley Davidson owner, an active volunteer as a member of the Harbor Faith Riders of Gray’s Harbor Chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association, and returns to volunteer at Feed the Hungry when he can.
Feed the Hungry is a program of the CCS Grays Harbor Family Center, serving hot nourishing meals Monday through Friday. To learn more, volunteer or make a gift, contact Cher Spencer: email@example.com