As a child, Keith loved the joy of family at Thanksgiving. But as an addict, the day never existed. Would he ever experience that joy again?
Growing up, Thanksgivings at our house were filled with happiness and great food. But what I remember most is the joy of family, surrounded by my parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
I wish every day had been joyful like that. But I suffered from dyslexia. In school, the stress of spelling, writing sentences, and doing math was overwhelming. Worse, the other kids laughed at me and called me “dumb.” I grew up angry and terrified of responsibility. I didn’t want to live up to anyone’s expectations of me.
The only way I could cope with stress was with alcohol and drugs — marijuana, PCP, and crack. And over the next 40 years, those drugs dragged me all the way to Skid Row, sleeping on a sidewalk across from Union Rescue Mission. But in 2011, I finally had enough, walked inside, and joined their recovery program.
I took advantage of everything — dental and health care, Bible studies, counseling, anger-management classes, and more. But the most important part of my recovery was this: washing dishes in URM’s kitchen. For almost eight hours a day, every day, I washed uncountable numbers of pots, pans, dishes, and silverware.
This place serves thousands of meals every day. Every time I entered the kitchen, I faced a mountain of dirty dishes. They count on those dishes being clean — and they counted on me to get it done. The stress was unbelievable. At times I wanted to quit. But I learned to tackle that mountain one dish at a time. And learning to manage that stress changed my life. I learned I could handle anything. Washing dishes might seem like a boring chore. But, it had been a long time since anyone trusted me, relied on me, and believed in me to be part of something.
I even handled washing the dishes at Thanksgiving, when we served almost 4,000 meals at a single serving! But that’s not what I remember most about that day here.
As a kid, I loved Thanksgiving. But as an addict, lost in drugs, that day never existed. The day would come and go and I’d never know. But spending Thanksgiving here at the Mission, I experienced a sense of joy and family I hadn’t felt in 40 years. It took me all the way back home to when I was a kid. In fact, I felt I was home! And I never want to miss that joy again.
Today, I’ve graduated from the program, I continue to follow Jesus Christ, and I’m preparing to go into real estate. And I’m still washing dishes — and grateful for it.
For people experiencing homelessness, Thanksgiving can bring up painful memories and feelings of loneliness. That’s why we launched URM’s Thanksgiving Meals Project — to serve 180,000 meals to hurting people this holiday season. Your gift will provide nutritious meals, safe shelter, and long-term care in a loving environment.
$29.12 can provide 14 holiday meals!
Thanks to generous donations from local markets and food suppliers, each holiday meal costs $2.08. This season, we expect to serve more than 180,000 meals — your generous gift will help make Thanksgiving a success!
As Thanksgiving approaches, we like to share what makes our guests grateful. Sometimes those who seem to have the least are the ones who experience gratitude in far richer ways than I do.
This year, however, thankfulness is easy. A year ago I didn’t think I would still be alive today. But I was blessed with courageous doctors, heart surgery, and a sacrificial wife who donated a kidney for me. Today I am healthy, strong, and serving hurting people.
One of the reasons I survived was all the encouragement our guests gave me. People still on the streets have expressed sincere joy that I’m still alive. Many even prayed for me.
What an honor it is to be a part of God’s work on Skid Row. I am a grateful man.