62 year old man serves the homeless for more than two decades

BY KELLY MARBLE

Ted Smith starting serving at St. Francis Soup Kitchen, that caters to homeless people, 23 years ago and still continues to serve despite his age.

Smith, “a retired Vietnam War veteran,” has seen a lot in his life time. Poverty has been a common theme no matter where he has been or traveled.

“Serving in the military I visited a lot of countries. Out of all the countries I visited poverty has been in them all,” Smith said. 

“I was stationed in Vietnam. On one side of the street you saw nice building and on the other side there would be homeless people everywhere.”

Smith got involved with St. Francis after a friend told him about it.

“I have seen generations of people come in and out of this soup kitchen.”

Homeless Stereotypes

“Many people put stigmas on homeless people. They think they are crazy or drug addicts. Not all have the same story,” said Smith.

Smith made in interesting point. Many homeless people are given free clothes from clothing drives and donations. There are shelters that provide living for free. Also many local churches, agencies and volunteers provide basic food.

“There is no motivation for many people to get help,” said Smith.

Volunteers

“Ya, Ted, he’s been running the soup kitchen for over 20 years. He’s the reason why many volunteers come,” said Carmen Mount.

Mount, 56, has been volunteering for 17 years.

“Ted has held this place together. The church lets us use the spot but the volunteers are what make this place special,” said Mount.

Mount and Smith have developed a friendship and rely heavy on one another to be at St. Francis bright and early to start on the soup.

“We are a family here and our customers’ (homeless people) are our brothers and sisters,” said Mount.

The Daily Grind

St. Francis Soup Kitchen is open every Saturday morning from 4 a.m. until noon. The meat is cooked fresh each morning and so it the soup. Volunteers are expected to arrive at 7:30 a.m. There are several duties ranging from; wiping tables, serving soup, coffee, tea, passing out bread, desserts, washing dishes, handing out bowls, plastic ware and table numbers, to working the cloth section, parking, and traffic into the church and out of the church. St. Francis never knows how many people will show up. Sometimes it’s more volunteers than “customers.” Other times the soup kitchen can be short staff.

Smith said, “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”

Going Down the Wrong Path

Jimmy Jones, a regular volunteer at St. Francis Soup kitchen, has spent a lot of his life homeless. It took a fatal disease to get Jones off the streets and reunited with his son.

Jones, 54, was grungy looking but it did not take long to look past his exterior. Jones’ warm presence makes him easy to approach. His smile is embraced by many volunteers.

Three months ago Jones was admitted to a hospice. I would visit him every Friday until the day he died.

“I was homeless for 12 years, I missed a lot in my life: from my son’s birth to being there for him,” said Jones.

“Being homeless was easy, I didn’t have to work or do nothing. All I did was get up and go to where they (volunteers) would hand out food, clothes, and money.”

“I was a crack addict for 12 years. It wasn’t until I felt a pain in my body that I knew something was wrong. I went to the hospital and the doctor told me I had cancer.”

“I decided to get clean, it wasn’t easy but I had to…I wanted to see my son.”

I asked Jones why he volunteered at St. Francis soup kitchen.

“Many of the volunteers at the soup kitchen are recovered addicts, and homeless people who got help. I felt comfortable.”

Jones looked at me for the last time and said, “Kelly I regret a lot of things I did in my life. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.”

 

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