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Food program gets a 'Heart'

Everyone who comes through the door of The Father's Heart Street Ministry in Clackamas has one thing in common - hunger.

They may be homeless, they may be addicts, they may be temporarily down on their luck, but they are all hungry, and Teri Gant, director, wants to feed them and give them a place to feel safe.

Gant was asked for the first time this year to provide free breakfast and lunches for county children who live in the area, and she was happy to comply. by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Office assistant April Kay, left, volunteer Lucy Amadisto and director Teri Gant pack a food box to hand out at The Father's Heart Street Ministry.

Free meals for kids are available all summer, Tuesday through Friday, and a Saturday breakfast truck also shows up at the site, she said. It's a partnership with Clackamas County Social Services and a number of churches in the area, Gant said.

She and her husband, Marty, founded The Father's Heart Street Ministry, a faith-based nonprofit, in 1999 to try and meet the needs of the homeless in Clackamas County. Located on Southeast Jannsen Road, next door to the Mattress World warehouse, the site has gone through some major changes in the past few years.

When she first moved to the Clackamas location, The Father's Heart was more of a 'break room,' where people could come in for a sack lunch and coffee and snacks. Now Gant describes the program as a day center, with a variety of services.

'We target anyone who falls at or below the poverty level,' Grant said. 'People can come in through the back door at 8:30 a.m. and get something to eat, sign up for a shower, visit the clothing exchange and get a sack lunch.'

They can do one free load of laundry per week, sit in the 'living room' and watch television, chat, write letters and even take a nap. In the winter, in extreme cold spells, the site becomes a warming center.

Gant will also talk to visitors about jobs and she helps provide or replace identification. There are three computer stations and free telephone use.

Dr. Bob Sayson and his team, including foot-care nurses, from the Good News Community Clinic come once a month to provide medical care. The doctor can write prescriptions, which Father's Heart pays for, Gant said.

Visitors can have three free meals a day; all the food is provided by volunteers, quite often from area churches.

'We provide about 8,000 meals a month. We feed families, children, individuals and some seniors. We are seeing more children than ever before and more people living in their cars than ever before. We've put together a make-shift children's area, with games and toys,' Gant said.

She added that the center supplies 100 to 150 free food boxes on the last two Wednesdays and last two Fridays of the month and street teams provide sack lunches and breakfasts on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Hope for all

All the visitors to The Father's Heart are grateful for the meals, but what Gant dispenses more than anything, is hope.

'If someone has a drug problem, when they are ready we pick them up and take them to detox, where we sit with them and support them. Once through detox, we help them with recovery,' Gant said.

She is willing to talk to anyone who comes to the center, no matter what their problems might be.

'We advise them, give them ideas, build them up. We tell them how valuable they are. There is nothing better than the feeling you have made a difference in someone's life. We love people where they're at, and show them somebody cares,' Gant said.

When she started The Father's Heart, she had no idea what she was doing, she said, but put her trust in God.

'It always astounds and amazes me, but God calls and provides. I come from humble beginnings, so I understand abuse, hunger and poverty,' Gant said.

Volunteers help

She could never make The Father's Heart work without the help of her more than 60 volunteers, she said, noting that some are clients or past clients, and some are just people who want to help.

She also has two paid staff members, Troy Kay, warehouse manager, and April Kay, office assistant.

The center always needs people to volunteer to make sack lunches or bring in hot food.

'We also welcome donations of warm, new or gently used clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, backpacks, socks and underwear,' Gant said.

Other necessities include non-perishable food items, some household items, personal hygiene products, especially feminine hygiene, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, she noted.

Monetary donations are particularly helpful, to enable the center to buy bus tickets, gas, coffee, food-service products, snacks, juice and milk, Gant said.

Gant is grateful for all the community support for The Father's Heart, and noted that recently Safeway gave the center a grant for $5,000, which came from its employee-giving program.

'We will use the money to feed people; it helps us continue,' Gant said.

'I know I can't solve everyone's problems, but I tell them I can make their day better than yesterday.'

Stories

Undoubtedly everyone who comes to The Father's Heart Street Ministry has a story to tell, but Mary Graham's is particularly compelling.

'I was homeless and strung out on drugs; and I was angry because the police had killed my husband. Then I came here about two and a half years ago, and as the days went by, I felt comfortable in the environment,' Graham said.

When Teri Gant, director of The Father's Heart, shared with Graham that her first husband was a policeman who was killed in the line of duty, the two developed a bond. That was strengthened when Gant was able to get Graham into a treatment program.

When she finished the program, Graham returned to the center as a volunteer office receptionist.

'This is home; I still feel comfortable here, and I have been clean for two years and three months,' Graham said.

Graham put her faith in God, she said, and that led to an opportunity to become a house manager for Bridges to Change, where she oversees four women from the penitentiary, who must live in clean and sober housing.

Technically, Graham's only duties are to see that the women do their chores and are in at curfew, but she has taken it upon herself to be a positive role model for the women.

'I know how an addict thinks, so I sit next to them and I don't preach to them. I stay clean - I walk the walk,' Graham said.

'When I see a recovering addict, I never put myself above them. We are sisters in recovery.'

The Father's Heart Street Ministry is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization

8890 S.E. Jannsen Road, Clackamas

Call 503-722-9780 for more information about donations

Homeless Day Center hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday

Donation drop-off: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday

Food boxes, last two Wednesdays and last two Fridays of the month, from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at the center; the next two food box days are June 27 and 29.

Free meals for children, now through the month of August, Tuesday through Friday at the center; breakfast, 8:30 to 10 a.m. and hot lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sack lunches are available all day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Saturday breakfast truck is available from 10:40 to 11 a.m.