Sunday mornings are an especially busy time for the Main Street Mission. For one thing, it’s the only day during the week that the cafeteria is opened early for breakfast. It’s not uncommon to find a line forming down the sidewalk before the kitchen crew volunteers arrive – which was usually around 4 a.m. By 6:00, the cafeteria is filled to capacity.
The promise of hot coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes, crispy bacon, biscuits with gravy, and the safety of the mission has the tendency to draw quite a crowd. The mission’s “Sunday with the Savior” feeding program is a destination for the needy and broken. The little cafeteria has become a refuge of dignity and respect for the homeless in a city that can be restless and wild.
The sound of the jingling bell mounted on the cafeteria door summoned Chaplain Johnson’s attention as he refilled the napkin dispenser at the end of the buffet counter. Looking back over his shoulder, the chaplain’s eyes settled on a small, thin black gentleman wearing a thick grey beard and a dingy, olive green army coat. It was Shorty Jackson – a regular and familiar face at the Main Street Mission.
“I was wondering if you were going to make it today Shorty,” announced Chaplain Johnson.
“Yes sir” the man answered in a high spirited voice. “I would have been here sooner chaplain, but a police man made leave my spot early this mornin’. It took me a little bit to gather up all my stuff” he replied. “Said I was loiterin’. I’ve been in the same spot for over a year and never had any trouble till now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Shorty. Come on over here and let me fix you a plate,” responded the chaplain in a warm and welcoming tone.
“Thanks Chaplain. I’m starvin’ this mornin’. I might just clean ya’ll out today” answered Shorty in his usual jovial way. “Make me a big plate. I need my strenth to set up for church this mornin’. Looks like we got a crowd today!”
“We’ve got plenty Shorty. I knew you were coming. You’d better eat up. Those chairs won’t stack themselves” rejoined the chaplain. His response left the poor little man of the streets feeling ten feet tall. His life had meaning and purpose – at least on Sunday’s at Main Street.
Chaplain Johnson nodded as he spooned gravy over a hot biscuit. Shorty’s contented demeanor and zeal to serve reminded the old clergyman how important the mission’s work was in the community. If it weren’t for organizations like Main Street, men like Shorty Jackson might not survive life on the streets.
At first glance, Shorty appears to be the picture of health. His cheerful countenance and good nature presents the illusion of an able man, but those who have come to know him well understand the reality of his struggle.
Shorty is dyslexic, illiterate and is mentally challenged – not retarded, but slow to comprehend. He’s lived alone on the street for since he was he was child. No one, but Shorty knows exactly why.
Though he’s always willing to work hard and to lend a helping hand, he’s mostly incapable of navigating even the most menial tasks and has come to rely heavily on his friends at the mission.
Shorty enthusiastically gobbled down his food. It wasn’t so much that he was hungry as it was that he was looking forward to being useful and needed. It's Shorty’s job to set up chairs in the chapel before services begin. This was a duty that he has faithfully carried out every Sunday for more than three years - rain or shine.
In no time flat, Shorty’s plate was cleaned and he was headed through the chapel doors. “Slow down Shorty. I’ll give you hand” Chaplain Johnson shouted. “Okay. I’ll meet you in the chapel” Shorty answered back. “It’s gonna be a good day Chaplain.” “It’s already been a good day Shorty” Chaplain Johnson whispered to himself.
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