Thursday, January 31, 2008

St. James serves breakfast to community's poor

Every morning, for more than 20 years, St. James Episcopal Church has been open for breakfast.

It all began when homeless people started knocking on the pastor's door offering to work for food.

That gave the church leadership the idea to start offering free breakfasts under what they're now calling the "Anchorage Breakfast Program."

Today, the Church, located at 119 N. Duke St. near Musser Park, serves an average of about 100 people a day, according to a volunteer coordinator Clark McSparren. A recent Thursday morning was particularly busy, with the count totaling 133.

"We serve coffee, tea, OJ, cereal, [and] oatmeal," McSparren said. "It's a cold breakfast."

McSparren said that St. James is the sole sponsor of this breakfast program, but he added that La Dolce Vita Courthouse Bakery down the street will often donate "sticky goods and breads."

Some of the volunteers helping out, like Charles Green, who is retired, have been volunteering for a long time. "I've been doing this for about 23 years," Mr. Green said. "I used to come here myself for breakfast."

Beth Kohler, a teaching assistant at Donegal High School, brought three students to help out. The students are in the school district's "Structure" program, which involves both academic study and "school to work" activities.

On this cold winter morning, the doors opened at 8:45 and a line quickly formed from the serving counter, across the room, and out into the hallway.

Most, though not all, of those availing themselves of the breakfast are homeless.

One young woman said that she has been homeless "since the end of September" because she could not pay her expenses after her husband stopped paying spousal support.

Another man said he was left homeless after a heart attack and expensive medical bills forced him into bankruptcy.

His friend interjected, "You gotta give up them cigarettes."

"I tried," he said softly.

One man was blunt about how he became homeless. "I'm in my position because of drinks and drugs," he said. "I made some bad choices - spent a whole paycheck on drinks and drugs, didn't care about paying bills."

"Some people we hang out with just wasn't good for us," another man added.

"A lot of people in here had real good jobs," the same person continued. "It can happen to anyone."

Next week: in Part 3 of our series, NewsLanc will report on the state of the
overnight facilities available for Lancaster's homeless population.