Daily food mission helps homeless, hungry - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Daily food mission helps homeless, hungry

Jataree Walker, age 3, is too young for school so he accompanied his Mom to Ozanam Center every day. (Source: WMC Action News 5) Jataree Walker, age 3, is too young for school so he accompanied his Mom to Ozanam Center every day. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

James Harris survives on the streets of Memphis thanks in part to the nutritious, free meal he enjoys every day at 1306 Monroe Avenue. James said he has bone cancer and recently spent two weeks in the hospital.

“I grew up in Midtown Memphis and had jobs in factories in the 1980s, and became an independent worker after that,” the 55-year-old said.

But James is now homeless. He visits the Food Mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul every day. Known as Ozanam Center, the food mission near Methodist University Hospital serves up a hearty meal, health and hygiene packets, and a welcoming spirit 365 days a year, holidays included.

“We are open from 9:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. every day of the year“ said Richard Peyton, Development Director for the Memphis District Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

CLICK HERE for pictures of the happy eaters.

By 10 a.m. on Friday, September 9, 89 of the expected 175 daily clients walked through Ozanam’s Center’s alluring chapel to the dining room where volunteers were dishing up sandwiches, chili, eggs, cookies, chips, coffee, and more.

Bernice Bobyes, a regular client, said the soup is exceptional every day, exceeded in excellence only by the warm hospitality of Ozanam Center’s loyal volunteers.

Joshua Cowan, 63, said he breaks bread at Ozanam Center daily before carrying his sketch pad down to Beale Street, where he draws celebrities like Mike Tyson and Donald and Melania Trump.

“I’m not homeless right now, but this place makes a real difference in peoples’ lives. There’s also some spiritual enlightenment with a prayer service at 9:30 each morning,” Joshua said.

Jataree Walker, age 3, was the youngest of the diners on Friday morning, munching on a hard-boiled egg as his mother, Kennyetta Smith, looked on.

“He doesn’t eat the yolks,” Kennyetta explained. “This place gives us a nutritious meal and gives us a place to go to get out of the house."

An active street minister at Ozanam Center, Jeffie Howard, said he now has a place to stay, but is formerly homeless.

“I minister to these people. I help them with their prayers. I’ve walked in their shoes,” Jeffie said.

The big fundraiser of the year for the Food Mission takes place at Christian Brothers High School at 5900 Walnut Grove Road on Saturday morning, September 10 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The St. Vincent de Paul Society’s annual “Walk for the Poor” invites people to gather financial support for the Food Mission, donate funds, and stroll around the track at CBHS with others willing to help the outreach program that’s a lifeline for thousands like James Harris.

“I count on this meal every day,” James said.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has focused on assisting individuals who reach out for help in Memphis since 1865.

“That help may include assistance with utility bills, food baskets, rent, or mortgage assistance. It could also include help paying medical bills and whatever the person may need to get back on their feet,” the Society’s website says.

St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was a French Roman Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He’s regarded as a saint in the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion. Known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” St. Vincent de Paul’s unswerving service to the poor inspired Frederic Ozanam (1813-1853) to gather his friends and create a society to follow de Paul’s example.

The Society has 160,000 trained volunteers in the U.S. who served some 14 million people in 2015 through visits to homes, prisons, and hospitals, The group's service was valued at $1 billion.

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