Christmas Blessings

Baltimore Cafe Owner Joins Holiday Efforts To Feed The Homeless

December 26, 2009|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

The roast turkey and ham came up short, so the volunteer Christmas Day crew at Red Springs Cafe went to backup provisions, carving up the 20-pound bird that had been planned for the restaurant owner's family dinner and frying chicken from the cafe's regular stock.

They were figuring on serving 250 or 350 meals to homeless people, but the need turned out to be greater.

"It's been a busy, blessed day for us," said Cheryl P. Townsend, who owns the restaurant specializing in Southern cooking. "We are so excited and it's fun. It's overwhelming to give back."

She showed up about 7 a.m. to continue preparations that began late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. An hour before the 11 a.m. serving time, people started gathering outside in the 300 block of N. Calvert St., under a gray sky in front of the storefront with the holiday greenery and white lights and the lighted red "Closed" sign in the window.

She started letting people come in early to warm up with coffee or tea. She lives across the street now, having moved this year from Silver Spring to Baltimore.

The contrast was alarming.

"I was shell-shocked to see all the homeless," said Townsend, who teamed up with the Washington-based Koblah Foundation Inc. to serve a Christmas meal, like she did for Thanksgiving and as she expects to do again New Year's Day. She said the Thanksgiving meal cost the foundation about $1,500 and that the organization would shell out closer to $2,500 for the Christmas feast of turkey, stuffing, honey-baked chipotle ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and chocolate cake and red velvet cake.

Jeffrey Wutoh said he founded the nonprofit in 2003 to help feed the homeless. The organization has an operation in Ghana, but works chiefly between Baltimore and Washington.

By 11:30 a.m. the 40- to 50-seat restaurant was packed. Closing time was 2 p.m., but some people were still there shortly before 3 o'clock, the last of about 375 who had been served, Townsend said.

It seemed that most who streamed through the restaurant from morning to midafternoon were spending the cold nights lately at the place they referred to as Code Blue, a Baltimore shelter on Guilford Avenue, a few blocks from the restaurant.

"There's people don't have anyplace to stay," said Alberta Townsend, Cheryl's mother and one of about 25 volunteers helping with the meal. "We try to work together and try to help one another, praise God."

Some in the crowd had never been homeless until recently. Others have been finding a place with friends and relatives or at public shelters for months.

Trina Stuart said she had been working as a welder until her legs were injured in an auto accident in 2007. She said she has not been able to work since then and has been homeless since October. After the Christmas meal, she was planning to go back to the shelter to wait for members of her family to pick her up and drive her to a family gathering in Northeast Baltimore.

Kirk Jenkins said he got the 5 a.m. wake-up call with everyone else at Code Blue and spent his morning taking the bus to and from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for his daily treatment for heroin and cocaine addiction. He reports there each day for a dose of a red liquid that tastes like cough syrup. For his participation in the 31-week drug treatment study, he said he could make up to $1,100 - paid in gift cards, not cash.

"It gives me a pattern, a schedule, so when I get a job I'll be on a schedule," he said.

Jenkins said he's been in and out of prison four times, always on drug charges. He used to work as a piano mover and was hoping to eventually find steady work in a warehouse.

After finishing his meal, he was planning to catch a bus to Edmondson Village to spend Christmas with family members, including his 13-year-old son, the youngest of four children.

Jenkins, 47, who has a shaved head and wore a black parka over a black sweat shirt, had spent part of his Christmas Eve at the Game Stop in the Gallery downtown buying computer games for his son.

He had put together enough money for three games, using a $70 gift card from the Bayview program and money borrowed from a friend and made on sales of individual cigarettes - 50 cents or so apiece from those who don't have the cash for a full pack.

He said he learned about the Red Springs Cafe feast from a flier posted at the shelter.

"I haven't finished high school, but I know when I read 'free food,' " he said, pronouncing the meal "excellent."

"On a scale of one to 10, this was a 10."

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