Three wraith-like visions approach across a littered field. It’s dusk and a bit spooky by the river, but I’m next to a guy who has been homeless and addicted. He now delivers food to people who live beneath overpasses, in fields of brambles and alleys into which you and I would never venture. He knows the ropes. I feel a little safer.
They arrive and hug Jean Manganaro, co-founder of Fed With Faith. Manganaro’s son, Cole, and another volunteer’s daughter, Kennet Clark, provide some childlike joy to what could be interpreted as a grim scene. Wendy Manganaro and I hand out the much-anticipated hot, home-cooked meals, and I grab the “sack meals” for the next day’s working lunch hour. Believe it or not, many of our homeless actually do have jobs, many from Labor Works.
I strike up a conversation with S.W., who has a college degree, and his two-man tent mate, Jeff, who is a certified welder. An articulate man, S.W. worked in hospitality and is working to find another job. Jeff has been on his own for four years. Neither chose to be there, but they say they’re making the best of it. This article can’t be long enough: I could talk to them for hours.
Fed With Faith is a non-profit born in October 2013, when the Manganaros saw a need for directly assisting the city’s indigent population. Some “campers,” live in small tent cities, others are solo. FWF’s teams of two drivers take seven routes ranging from the Waterfront to Shively, creating a direct outreach to the truly homeless. At the Second and Broadway McDonald’s, we fed two dozen from the back of the truck. Jean carries first aid items, particularly for foot care, critical to walking to day shelters and job interviews.
Jean and Wendy Manganaro are empathetic to their plight. He has firsthand experience with homelessness and addiction, having spent five years on the streets as a teenager. Alcoholics Anonymous has been his path to 25 years of sobriety. Both parents work full-time and manage their home and this complex charitable organization, and 10-year-old Cole runs Fed With Faith Kids, providing toys and other “kid stuff” to the children of the homeless.
120 hot meals and 200 sack meals are served per week, equating to 30,000 combined meals per year. Hot boxes always have meat, a side, bread and dessert. The sack meals contain chips, sandwiches, granola bars or homemade granola, plus canned foods which easily “keep.” Local restaurants support the effort with regular contributions.
At Beargrass Christian Church, the gathering point, Pastor Leigh Bond speaks with pride. “There are over a dozen cooks preparing that food. It’s 100 percent volunteer, 100 percent private donation-based. They’re out ’til all hours, saving people’s lives. They perform miracles in getting the tents and sternos and all the other supplies they give out. It’s the loaves and fishes every week. They don’t know where the food is going to come from, but every time, it comes rolling in.”
FWF provides socks, shoes, personal care items, blankets, even books. 13 to 15 cases of water are dropped off in the winter, double that in the summer. Support is extended to new apartment dwellers with “starter kits” and six months of weekly grocery boxes. Only one or two out of every 10 people make it off the street into housing.
Jean also creates a full dossier on each individual, including family contacts, health status, Social Security numbers and more. He’ll accompany rape victims to the hospital, sponsor the detoxing, provide a “community tie” at court dates and help those escaping domestic violence. The coroner can look to Jean for help identifying a John Doe and informing next of kin. I share the availability of assistance via Bridgehaven Mental Health Services, which offers full Medicaid admission and has a grant to provide for the many untreated mentally ill among the homeless population.
Many of the persons served by Fed With Faith have animals for protection and companionship. A partnering organization, My Dog Eats First, collects and donates supplies such a kitty litter, leashes, carriers, food and veterinary services such as spay/neuter and rabies shots. VT
For more information, visit the Fed With Faith Facebook page at facebook.com/fedwithfaith.
By TARA BASSETT, Contributing Writer