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For homeless, Christmas is just a hot meal thanks to Rowan Helping Ministries

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

People start lining up early for the soup kitchen at Rowan Helping Ministries.

The regulars are quick to notice a new face, but say little. There’s a politeness that is not usually found in long lines.

On this particular day, the weather is unseasonably warm, but some wear heavy coats anyway.

Alice Hill waits in line with her husband for a plate of warm food and a glass of iced tea. “It’s a great place to come to,” she says.

They eat lunch at the soup kitchen almost every day.

Neither one of them has a job, and Hill says they get by as best they can on her disability check.

“It’s hard on what I make,” she says. “We just live from day to day.”

Unlike some in the line, she and her husband have a house in East Spencer.

Hill’s 60 years of age show on her face, but her eyes are youthful and light up when the newcomer mentions Christmas.

“Christmas is a great time of year,” she says. “It’s Christ’s birthday. It’s great to have a friend in Jesus.

“He’s the best friend of all.”

While many people focus on buying at Christmas, Hill says she tries to find somebody worse off than she is. “I try to help them maybe with food or something like that,” she says. “I like to celebrate Christmas all year round.”

A Rowan Helping Ministries staff member lets five people into the soup kitchen at a time. No questions are asked.

Lunch is served to anyone who is hungry from noon to 1 p.m. seven days a week at the ministries’ headquarters at 226 N. Long St. The food is cooked and served by volunteers.

Andrew Anderson of Linwood sits at a table with two small children. The little boy next to him is Corbett, he says. He’s 18 months old.

Anderson introduces the little girl to Corbett’s right as Riley. She’s 2 and a half. “She’s all the time asking about going to the soup kitchen,” he says.

Until about three years ago, 51-year-old Anderson worked as a machine operator. When the chronic pain in his back worsened and his legs kept swelling, he says he had to go on disability.

Home for Anderson is a camper trailer which belongs to his stepsister’s mother. Corbett is his great nephew, and he’s been staying with him for about a month and a half. “If I leave, he’ll pitch a fit,” he says.

Riley is his stepsister’s granddaughter. After listening quietly, she joins in the conversation.

“I like the food,” she says. All around, plates are filled with generous helpings of salmon loaf, mashed potatoes, slaw and a roll.

Desserts, donated by Food Lion when the dates expire, vary from plate to plate. Many have birthday cake with multi-colored icing, while others eat pound cake and pumpkin pie.

For Riley and Corbett, the soup kitchen is just like a restaurant.

Anderson has never been married or had children, but he says he tries to take care of Corbett as best he can. He’s tired and not feeling well these days and could use some rest, but says Corbett cries every time his parents try to take him home.

Corbett, who is drinking his tea from a bottle, leans against Anderson.

“Are you tired again?” Anderson asks him and gently rubs his head.

When they left the soup kitchen the day before, Anderson says he took Corbett and Riley by Salisbury Mall to see Santa Claus.

“He didn’t want to have nothing to do with Santa,” he says of Corbett. “He wanted to come back to me.”

Riley was a little more receptive to the man in the red suit, but wouldn’t sit on his lap.

Anderson says they also saw Santa at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer the previous Sunday.

The museum is one of Corbett’s favorite places, he says. “He loves trains. He’ll hear one going by and start getting all excited.”

By this time, Corbett’s sleepy, and Riley and Anderson are done eating. Riley says goodbye as they prepare to leave. “You’re my friend,” she says.

Behind them sits 53-year-old Rosy Way, who eats at the soup kitchen at least once a week. She made her living doing secretarial work, but had to go on disability due to high blood pressure and depression.

Her depression started when her 21-year-old son, Danny, was murdered four years ago. “It’s hard, especially at the holidays,” she says. “I think about him.”

When she finds herself dwelling on what happened, Way says she starts praying. “Jesus helps me through,” she says. “He’s the reason for the season.”

Another thing that helps her is reaching out to other people. “I try to let them know that God loves them,” she says, “and I love them, too.”

Forty-four-year-old Timothy Hucks says he plans to eat Christmas lunch at the soup kitchen. “They had an excellent meal on Thanksgiving,” he says.

A paranoid schizophrenic, Hucks says he’s been living on the streets of Salisbury for the last five years, off and on. He doesn’t know where he’ll spend the night from one day to the next.

“I’ll find somewhere to lay down,” he says. ‘I’ve got a sleeping bag and stuff.”

Hucks says his mental illness is stable “as long as I take my medicine like I’m supposed to.” A veteran, he gets his prescriptions through the Hefner VA Medical Center.

Despite not having a home, Hucks says he’s able to enjoy life and is looking forward to celebrating Jesus’ birthday on Christmas Day. “Jesus died on the cross for all of us,” he says.

Milton Barber also lives on the streets. His problems began when degenerative arthritis kept him from being able to work.

“And I’ve had drug problems,” he says. “The two of those things is what got me homeless.”

A veteran of the Air Force during the Vietnam era, 55-year-old Barber says he applied for a pension because of his arthritis, but was turned down.

He’s grateful for the food provided by the soup kitchen. “A lot of times, if it wasn’t for the meals I got here, I wouldn’t eat,” he says.

His attitude is positive even though he never knows where he’ll sleep.

“I have a lot of faith,” he says. “The Word tells me that the Lord will look after us and meet our needs. And to me, He generally does, maybe not the way I would like it, but the way He would want it.”

Barber says he used to spend the Christmas holiday in a comfortable home with his family. “And a lot of times, I took those things for granted,” he says.

If someone had told him 20 or 30 years ago that he would be homeless, Barber says he would have told them, “No, never.”

“But sometimes due to circumstances or things beyond our control,” he says, “we find ourselves in that position. People need to think about what they do have and maybe thank God who makes all things possible.”

Even on the streets, he’ll be observing the holiday. “I believe in the spirit of Christmas,” he says. “To me, it’s a time when we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

For more information on Rowan Helping Ministries or to volunteer to serve in the soup kitchen, homeless shelter or any of the other programs, call 704-637-6838 or log onto www.rowanhelpingministries.org.

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.


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