Feeding Body and Soul

Every day, hundreds of people come to the Union Gospel Mission for lunch and dinner. Many of these individuals have been living in survival mode for an extended period of time, wondering where their next meal will come from or where they’ll sleep.
Because of a generous community, UGM provides them with a warm meal and safe shelter. And with their basic needs met, they begin recognizing other needs. Not always right away. In fact, for Jeff LeBlanc, it took years.
“Getting high took away the cravings for food, it took away the want to sleep, it took all the pain away.”
Drugs masked Jeff’s hunger as well as his pain, but he couldn’t hide the physical effects of not eating.
“I didn’t eat, and I felt like I was rotting away… I remember one time I went to jail and they took my weight, and I was 138 pounds. It really affected my self-worth, and I felt like I was going to die.”
Jeff had plenty of pain to mask. Removed from his home as a child, jeff moved from foster home to foster home until he ended up on the streets at 16.
“In and out of friends’ houses, couch surfing, sleeping on the streets, parks, Greyhound…didn’t matter where as long as I was out of the rain and snow…Being homeless made me feel lost and disposable.”
Jeff’s upbringing left him clueless about how to do life. “I didn’t know how to take care of myself, didn’t know how to brush my teeth, do laundry, wash dishes or feed myself. I didn’t know how to press into a job or even apply for a job. I didn’t know how to talk to people.”
Off and on over the next eight years, Jeff came to UGM for food and shelter.
Initially, he hated meal time at the Mission – “I felt out of place. It was so uncomfortable: anxiety, worry… I was judging myself, I knew how unhealthy I was at the time.”
But over time, “People started caring about me, and I got to eat, and when I started eating, it felt like I was gaining something. It felt like I was getting worth and maybe I had a chance. It was completely opposite of what I was used to, scrounging around for food.”
Each stay, Jeff felt increasingly less awkward, and in addition to getting food, he was exposed to caring people, recovery, and God.
“The more I came here and the more the people talked to me, the volunteers, staff, the actual guests or programmers, the more comfortable I became. And eventually, I became comfortable enough to join the program.”
Feeding guests and addressing the physical often raises awareness of a deeper hunger, one that is only satisfied by God. Jeff says that hunger makes a difference when it comes to transformation.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come in here and want change and want the love that this place provides, but they’re just not ready for it…I know when I came in here I was really hard to reach. There was no way of getting through to me.” But people kept trying. “That was the main thing; people trying to care about me, even though I didn’t care about myself…It was all the people that showed genuine concern for me, compassion. I had never had that before.”
During his last stint in jail, something clicked for Jeff. “I just got this thirst for the Bible.”
He had an encounter with God that made him want to change. So after he was released, he came back to the Mission but, this time, to enter recovery.
Interestingly, as Jeff cleared his mind of drugs and pursued a relationship with Christ, he became more aware of his need for food and how the physical and spiritual tie together in living a healthy life.
“They came kind of hand in hand. Before I got saved, food didn’t matter. Shelter didn’t matter. The drug mattered; the drug was my god. So when I got saved and came here to do things the healthy way, food and shelter and ‘normal stuff’ came hand in hand.”
Breaking the cycle begins with a meal. Please partner with UGM to address both physical and spiritual hunger. Go to www.uniongospelmission.org to learn more.