A Thanksgiving Feast of Hope

Mrs. Mellow's dinner was the hope these homeless men needed.

Posted in , Dec 15, 2008

Guideposts: A welcome mat at a house's front door

Ron and I didn't know where the food would be coming from for the Thanksgiving dinner we had in mind. We were both between jobs and didn't have the money such a feast would require.

Still, about 10 days before Thanksgiving, a passage from the Bible had come loud and clear into our prayers: "But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind."

"Sunshine," Ron said, "let's invite some of the guys here for Thanksgiving." The "guys" Ron was referring to were homeless men he knew from when he himself had lived on the street in Minneapolis.

Three years ago, after a long and difficult struggle, Ron had broken free from his hopeless street life. With ongoing, intensive help from counselors and friends at the New Hope Center street ministry, he'd given up alcohol and got a job, and he and I had married. But his heart cried out for those still left foraging through garbage and sleeping in doorways on subzero nights.

Then came the call. "Carol, this is Jane. Our church has extra Thanksgiving bags. Can you use them?" Soon grocery bags containing everything imaginable—from the turkey to the whipped cream for the pies—were delivered to our door.

On Thanksgiving morning, turkey in the oven, Ron and I bowed our heads before starting off to the camps where men lived in cardboard cartons and rusting boxcars. "Lord, let this day be your day and let us be your servants," we prayed.

We drove into the first camp at 8:00 a.m. It was important to get there while the men were still sober and before they started to wander for the day. Ron checked three boxcars, then a truck trailer.

Before long he had assembled five very grimy men, bedrolls on their backs and bags or knapsacks in their hands. "Me and the boys sure are glad to meet you, Mrs. Mellow!" one of them said. Oh, yes, that's me! Ron's street name had been Mellow, so it was natural for them to address me as Mrs. Mellow.

The ride home revealed their names—Jimbo, Hillbilly, Irish, Capone and Rocky—and ages, from 25 to over 50. Some had once had jobs and families but had lost them to misfortune and alcohol; others said vaguely that they'd been wandering as long as they could remember.

"If anybody wants to shower and wash his clothes before dinner, we have sweat suits you can put on," Ron said. Knowing their needs, Ron had provided clean socks, shorts, stiff hair brushes, hydrogen peroxide and bandages.

I, however, got a good-natured razzing for leaving toothbrushes out for them. "We don't have many teeth to brush," Jimbo said, giving me a toothless grin to prove it.

One by one the guys dropped their clothes in the washer and emerged in their suburban sweat suits. Hillbilly, the last one to shower, poked his head out of the bathroom. "Do y'all have any scouring powder?" he asked in a gentle drawl. "We got your shower pretty dirty, and I'll gladly scrub it up for you."

While we waited for the turkey to roast, we played Hearts and Gin, laughed, and told stories. By the time we were seated at the table, I had learned more about these men.

Capone, who had been hit on the head in a camp scuffle and now could barely hear, had grown up in Iowa. Irish, who had lost an eye in a camp brawl, was Cerione McGowan, originally from Ireland. Sweet-spirited Jimbo, who had lost his hand one night when his sleeping bag caught fire, had come from Kentucky.

Rocky, whose face had been shattered by the blast of a shotgun, was once an Army brat who had lived all over the world. And Hillbilly's toes had been amputated because of frostbite.

Ron carved the turkey, and we joined hands for a prayer of thanks. After dinner Hillbilly announced, "Me and the boys would be deeply honored if you would allow us to wash the dishes."

When clean clothes came out of the dryer, the men sniffed their shirts with pleasure, then helped me prepare turkey sandwiches to take back to camp with them. It apparently astonished them that they'd got through the day without a drink. "I'm tired of this trampin' stuff," I heard Hillbilly say. "If you got off the street, Ron, maybe I could do it too."

We drove the men back. But during the course of the day those five men had become Mr. Cerione McGowan, Mr. Allen Demro, Mr. James Korman, Mr. James Barnett and Mr. Charles Buchanan—each with his own history and suffering and unfulfilled dreams. And if any seeds of hope had been planted in the mind of any one of them that he too could get off the street, then our dinner would truly be cause for thanksgiving.

If God had led us to give these men this meal, then he surely would continue to be watching over them. And tonight our prayer of hope and thanksgiving was that God somehow had used...Mrs. Mellow's dinner.

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