Glen Burnie's homeless share what they have for holiday

At Emmaus Center's third annual Thanksgiving dinner, community members help each other

  • Left to right, Barbara Hudgens, Pasadena, director of operations, Emmaus Center, Pamela Lavicka and her husband, Andrew Lavicka, Glen Burnie, have a laugh during morning prayers at the Emmaus Center. The center offers guidance, support and community to homeless people.
Left to right, Barbara Hudgens, Pasadena, director of operations,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
November 19, 2011|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

He has frequent lapses of memory, the result of a brain aneurysm he suffered as a teen in 1972. He struggled for years to keep jobs at BWI, at a discount store and in an industrial park.

And finally, after his mother died in a Baltimore County nursing home, Fred Schaefle of Glen Burnie lost the condo in which he'd been living and ended up in a tent.

"There's so much you don't appreciate until you don't have it," says the rangy, bearded 58-year-old with a shake of the head. "For example, indoor plumbing or a place to warm your food."

Four years later, Schaefle feels he has many things to be thankful for, foremost among them the community that he says has restored him: the Emmaus Center, a small Glen Burnie nonprofit that offers food, shelter and fellowship to homeless people.

On Thursday, he'll help a dozen or so fellow patrons of that center, many of them homeless or formerly homeless, serve Thanksgiving dinner for other homeless people — and anyone else who wants to come and be "fed, welcomed and loved," in the words of Barb Hudgens, the center's operations manager.

"I've always made a huge Thanksgiving dinner for my own family, and when you cook and your family comes, it's wonderful," says Hudgens, who has volunteered at Emmaus since 2009. "But you know they already have food, love and other people in their lives. These people don't. On Thanksgiving, we'll feed them and show them all the love we have."

It will be the third straight year the center has offered the celebration, which has attracted 60 or more people the past two years.

By all accounts, it's a joyous occasion.

"The appreciation is like nothing you've ever seen," Hudgens says.

To Schaefle, the feast is an outgrowth of the general philosophy at Emmaus, an organization that he says reaches out in a way others won't or can't.

"You go to other [homeless outreach centers], like churches or government-sponsored facilities, and they offer the bare necessities," he says. "Don't get me wrong — that's a great thing. But this community has a heart. It has become my family. And this time of year, families get together and give thanks."

Coming home

The Gospel of Luke includes a tale in which two of Jesus' disciples express despair that their master has been killed — and doubt over reports his body had left its tomb.

On their way to the town of Emmaus, they run into a stranger who upbraids them for lacking faith. When they arrive, they realize that stranger is actually Jesus.

"Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him," the biblical passage reads.

If the Emmaus Center on South Crain Highway helps people like Schaefle, it's because its founders, the Rev. Ed Jansen and his wife, Trish Gaffney, believe anyone can see things anew, especially if they take a simple step: deciding to place others ahead of themselves.

Four years ago, the couple, both ordained ministers in the Apostolic Catholic Church, were living in Stuart, Fla., where Jansen had worked as a pastoral counselor for more than 20 years, and Gaffney as a social worker.

One day, for no reason he can remember, Jansen asked his wife, a Severna Park native, what she would do if he were to die.

"I'd move back home," she said, meaning to Anne Arundel County.

"If that's what you consider home, what are we waiting for?" he said.

They closed up their affairs, left the state they loved and headed north.

Their original plan was to set up a private counseling service with a sideline: helping those who lived on the streets. But when they opened their doors in May 2008, so many homeless people showed up for help that "it just overwhelmed us," says Jansen, who is known at Emmaus as Father Ed.

They decided to devote the center to "raising up" that population, then numbering about 400 in the county, mostly in or near Glen Burnie, according to Arundel House of Hope, a social services agency.

"We're not just a place that gives handouts," says Jansen in his office at the center, on the third floor of the Steffey office building. "There are two kinds of people in our community. First are those who are in severe need. They can come and be welcomed, and we ask nothing in return. Second are those who have been in that condition but who keep coming back, who want to be part of the community. Of those people, we do have expectations. They soon realize they have something to give back."

That theme animates the place. Operating on an annual budget of $50,000, the center and its unpaid staff of seven offers what they consider everybody's most basic needs: sustenance (the center distributes bagels and other donated foods), shelter (guests can gather between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. seven days a week), companionship and something useful to do.

Between 25 and 50 people stop by most days.

One recent morning, Schaefle was one of a dozen or so homeless or recently homeless on hand vacuuming the floors, washing bathrooms, replacing light bulbs and even cleaning the other offices in the building.

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