The cupboard is bare
Jon McDougle smells like he’s been drinking alcohol, but at least he’s on his medication. That’s the only way Lori Meyer feels safe around the homeless man who often partakes of the long-standing free lunches Meyer provides in Whitman Park.
“This woman is so very important,” he said gesturing elaborately and giving Meyer a bear hug at what is dubbed “homeless park.” “We need her to be supported and financed. It ain’t just food or something to wear. She is my friend.”
Most every Sunday for nearly 18 years, hungry people with nowhere else to go for a free meal have relied on Meyer.
The Clifton woman, a Grand Valley native with a soft spot for the area’s homeless population, lived out the mission she thinks God wanted her to do — feeding lunch to 800 to 1,200 people a month.
But because of a host of changes in her personal life, at the end of April, Meyer stopped providing the free weekly meals. Her husband, Mark, recently lost his job and she now needs to find work to keep from losing their home. Over the years, the couple several times have drained their savings accounts to buy food or tents and sleeping bags to help the needy make it through bitter winters.
“I want to do this, but I need some help,” she said as her eyes welled with tears during an interview at the park. “You kind of have to have a heart for it if you want to do it for free.”
For the time being, volunteers with Bookcliff Baptist Church will provide lunches on the fourth Sunday of each month, Meyer said. Jubilee Family Church had been feeding folks one Sunday a month, but those efforts are on hold, according to a church representative.
Meyer provides the meals under the nonprofit group Christ’s Food Ministry. Canyon View Vineyard Church provides $400 a month to purchase the food, but Meyer has always prepped, cooked, delivered and served the meals for free. After years of busy Sunday mornings, Meyer would like to be able to attend church again. She has a heart condition that makes it difficult to be outdoors when the temperature soars.
Meyer said she also is not fond of the increases in fights among vagrants and homeless people at the park since a state law passed in 2008 allowing alcohol sales on Sundays.
“It used to be that they would show up hung over on Sundays,” she said. “Now they show up drunk. It makes a big difference.”
After one man hit another man in the head with an ax at the park, she protested the violence by not providing food for a few weeks recently.
Overall, however, homeless people at the park are much better behaved than in years past, she said.
“About seven years ago, I wouldn’t have sat in this park with you,” Meyer said, looking around as small, peaceful groups of homeless people circled up on the grass or gathered around picnic tables.
Meyer purchases food staples from Food Bank of the Rockies at wholesale prices. At 5 cents a pound for meat she can serve 200 people for $10. That helps stretch dollars because she likes to include healthy sides such as salad. Before Sprouts Farmers Market opened, Meyer spent $76 a week to make salad, but buying those ingredients at the new store brings the costs down to $15.
Meyer also must haul four tables for serving food, six picnic tables for folks to have a place to sit, nine coolers and five turkey cookers.
She and her husband bought a commercial coffee maker to provide hot drinks. Preparation for cooking all that food often starts the day before.
“We have our own personal trailer, but it’s always used for the ministry,” she said.
Despite the thousands of people she helped feed, Meyer sometimes is criticized for her efforts. While standing in line to check out at Sam’s Club, people sometimes comment on her large food order, asking if she’s having a barbecue. After responding to one woman that she feeds the homeless, the woman became irate, bringing Meyer to tears.
“I’m trying to do what I think is right and you’re over here cursing me out,” she recalled of the incident.
Meyer started serving the homeless and transients on Sundays because it’s the one day a week there are no other free meals available locally to the needy.
Parishioners of several churches serve meals to the homeless on a rotating basis at the Homeward Bound homeless shelter. The soup kitchen at Grand Valley Catholic Outreach serves lunch at noon every day but Sundays.
“There’s still that need on Sunday,” Meyer said. “Until somebody steps up, there’s a need. I was really hoping somebody would step up.”
These days, Meyer purposefully tries not to pass by the downtown park she calls “God’s park” because she gets emotional thinking about all the memories she has wrapped up here.
Sometimes officials at the nearby Greyhound bus station send hungry travelers across the street to grab a bite. Once Meyer packed a lunch for a woman and her children who were traveling from the East Coast and fleeing from an abusive relationship. The children had been crying at the bus station because they were hungry and the mother didn’t have any money to buy food for them.
“She was so grateful,” Meyer said.
For now, Meyer has to focus on keeping her own family from falling into financial ruin.
“If things change and my husband gets an awesome job ...” she said, trailing off about being able to provide the meals again. “A lot of people look down on the homeless and think they’re bad. Most people don’t understand that most people are just a paycheck or two away from being homeless. Right now, we can’t afford it. For once in 18 years I have to worry about losing my house.”
If anyone is interested in taking up the cause, call Meyer at 261-7299.