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Special Issues: Food at the Eugene Mission   
By Brandon Smith

Visit SPECIAL ISSUES: FOOD & AGRICULTURE for photos and more information about the series.

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, about 3.5 million Americans are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. In 2008, Oregon unveiled its 10-year plan to help end homelessness. Until that goal is met, there are still plenty of people in need of safe shelter and a good meal.

KLCC'S Brandon Smith visited one organization to see how they manage.

In West Eugene, just right of the bridge that connects Chambers and River Road, is the rambling collection of buildings that make up the Eugene Mission.

There's a large warehouse for its newspaper-recycling/work-rehabilitation program, a home for women and children; and a center for single women. The main building holds the cafeteria, bunks and day services for transient men, housing for men on the rehabilitation track; and a chapel.

A large white sign, visible from the bridge, sums it up: Food.  Bed. Gospel.

"If somebody comes to the door even at 3 in the morning, let's say the weather's bad, or they just got out of jail, or just got into town, or somebody kicked them out, they can come in here and have a glass of milk or water and a peanut butter sandwich. You know, we never turn anybody away as long as they are pretty cooperative."

That's kitchen manager Clarence Marrtell. Clarence is friendly, with a girth that's appropriate for a man of his profession. He says work in the kitchen begins at 4 in the morning and goes until 9 at night. All together they serve about 800 meals a day. Thatís a lot of food.

Doug, the evening cook, says about 90 percent of the food the mission serves is donated:

"From grocery stores, from people walking in the door, backing their pickup trucks here with leftovers from their gardens. It's just amazing the generosity of this community. We are able to serve a very balancedÖ it's meat, vegetables and a starch at every meal we have." 

One of the people who has committed to the Mission is Mary Brady. Mrs. Brady raises cattle, border collies,  chickens and ducks on her farm near Marcola:

"I have to spread this feed all around so everybody gets a chance. And they like the whole corn best."

Twice a month she drives into Eugene to bring the Mission duck eggs:

"Even when I took chicken eggs_ he said they can tell the difference between the your chicken eggs and the eggs we buy and they really appreciate them. It's just part of being a Christian that you reach out to do things for others. But, there's people at the mission that had duck eggs when they were somewhere in their life and why shouldn't they have them? So that's why I take them. It's just fun."

In addition to local residents, restaurants and grocery stores, the mission receives food from the Oregon state police in the form of poached animals. This is Sergeant Ron Martin:

"I would say it's almost on a weekly basis, in the fall seasons, for unlawful kills. Late summer and fall. And then throughout the rest of the year it slows down. Occasionally, we take over a bear. Salmon is a possibility and as well as turkeys. But, for this area, its mostly deer and elk."

Wherever the meat comes from it all passes through the fridge and under the knife of the mission's in-house butcher, Gene:

"Never had no training. They just sort put me out here and I just fit in the position and been here ever since. It's peaceful and I use it as my therapy."

Gene is a tall, muscular man. He says he grew up as a county boy_ hunting and skinning animals. He spends most of his day in this plain 10-by-20 foot room:

"This is the cooler. I still have one cow hanging. This one actually came from a dairy farm. We got the two rib cages, the brisket, the prime. Itís a pretty standard procedure. You know, we try to do a lot of chipped beef with it when we get fresh meat in, stews, roasts. Last month we probably ate 35-hundred pounds of beef with all the beef that came in on donations."

Clarence Marrtell says what they don't get donated they buy themselves:

"You know, they give me a minimal amount of budget money. I buy biscuit mix or pancake mix and frozen vegetables. Oatmeal in the morning. There's a continuous need for that but we've been pretty well provided for for that. I look at what's there and I decide 'well, we're gonna do this this day,' and I talk to my butcher Eugene and it all just seems to come together. I worried about it the first few months I did it."

Clarence says with his staff of 18 they manage to prepare a pretty balanced diet:

"This morning they came in, they had French toast, a nice little bit of syrup with that, coffee. I believe there was milk. I think there was apricots out this morning. This afternoon, itís a bowl of soup for our line guests. This evening, right now, you'll notice, I got this pot over here steaming. I've got some roast beef in there. We harvested some cows this past week. They'll get a slice of roast beef some boiled potatoes; probably green beans along with that."

Mother's with children have breakfast in their own center but, other than that, everyone at the Mission eats in different shifts in the main building.

The cafeteria is a long, brightly-lit space with plastic pallets of donated bread crowding the back of the room. On this particular Wednesday, around noon, there are several tables full of what the mission calls "line guests" or men off the street.

Some seem to be regulars here and speak to each other with familiarity and others keep to themselves.

I asked Dan, a thin man with a weathered face, how the food was:

"Dinner and breakfast ain't bad. You get oatmeal, French toast, S.O.S., hotcakes. Lunch is different story. Don't come for lunch. But I'm here eating."

What's S.O.S?

"Ögravy and sausage over toast. I won't say the other words. I almost said it. But no, it's an old tradition."

Regardless of which words describe a free and much-needed lunch, for the Eugene Mission, the words to remember are food, bed, gospel. They have a made a big difference in a lot of lives and for people like Gene and Clarence they've also lead to jobs and stability:

"I look at, you know, the people who are under me on the program, the rehabilitation program, and you kinda look at yourself and you say 'well, yeah, that kinda reminds me on me.' You know, I used to drink and well, yea, I used to get high. There's a lot of things I used to do that I donít' do now. Because this Mission is a blessing."

For KLCC News, I'm Brandon Smith at the Eugene Mission.

Visit SPECIAL ISSUES: FOOD & AGRICULTURE for photos and more information.


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