Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jackson Clark offers a sack lunch to a man behind the Gresham Post Office. The 6-year-old started a mission to feed the hungry more than a year ago, after his mom explained what it meant to be homeless.

Wrapping one’s head around the complexities of homelessness is difficult for most adults, but in the mind of one child, the answer is really quite simple.

“They don’t have a place to live or any food to eat. That makes me sad,” said Jackson Clark. “So I buy food to feed homeless people.”

Jackson is a typical 6-year-old. He likes remote controlled cars, video games and his cat. He’s been a student of Taekwondo for two years, recently earning his blue belt. As a soon-to-be second-grader at Hall Elementary, Jackson prefers recess to math and wants to be a police officer when he grows up.

But once a week, the energetic towhead helps pack sack lunches, and with the help of his parents, Robert and Trisha, distributes those lunches to homeless people. The trio drives to areas where those in need gather. Taking lunches from a box in the back seat, Jackson offers them something to eat.

“We put in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a fruit cup and a cookie,” Jackson said. “And we give them a bottle of water. Some people say thank you to me. They’re happy, but they’re surprised sometimes.”

The act of kindness was born from the curious mind of a then 5-year-old. On a misty spring morning last year, Trisha and Jackson were leaving a mall parking lot near their home in Gresham, when Jackson asked his mom about a man standing on the median holding a sign.

“He had 20 questions,” Trisha said. “What did homeless mean? Why was the man homeless? Where were his parents? Jackson said he wanted to feed him, so we went to Safeway and bought some food and took it back to him. That’s sort of what started it.” Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jackson Clark and his mom, Trisha, prepare and assemble lunches they offer to the homeless on the streets of Gresham. Each week, Jackson delivers between 10-14 sack lunches, containing a sandwich, fruit cup, cookie and bottle of water.

About once a month after that first encounter, Trisha said she and Jackson would repeat the process. They spent around $10 to purchase items that would last the man a couple days — milk, a chicken, some bread. If he wasn’t there, mother and son would drive to other areas around Gresham delivering groceries to the hungry.

“In the beginning, Jackson didn’t understand that the lunches we took to them were the only meal some of them got,” Trisha said. “But then he saw people digging through garbage cans for food and said he didn’t think we were giving them enough.”

Jackson decided he needed more money to buy more food to feed more people. So with the encouragement of family, he began doing extra chores, putting half his earnings in a container marked “Feed the Homeless.”

“I pulled some weeds for Nan (Grandma),” Jackson said. “One day, she gave me $2.”

Robert began investigating ways to stretch Jackson’s savings and discovered grocery outlet stores with products approaching their expiration dates. A recent trip to one such place provided Jackson with enough supplies to make 12 lunches for $7.93.

“We bought 12 cookies and 12 fruit cups,” Robert said. “The case of water was the biggest expense, but the bread was free.”

In June, Jackson, who was presented with the “Helping Others Award” during belt progression ceremonies at U.S. World Class Taekwondo.

“Master Sam” and “Miss Claire” Lider, owners of the school, encourage their students to employ the values of martial arts — discipline, focus, respect and confidence — in their daily lives at home and in school. After learning of Jackson’s monthly mission for the homeless, the Liders offered an unexpected gift.

“We knew what he was doing with $10 a month,” Claire said. “So we gave Jackson $50 towards his project and challenged him to see how many people he could feed.”

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jackson, accompanied by mom, Trisha and dad, Robert, heads across the street to offer lunch to a group of homeless men near the Gresham Post Office. Over a three-week period, Jackson delivered 74 lunches to the homeless, including 51 to residents at the Right 2 Dream Too camp in downtown Portland.

Jackson, who will turn 7 on July 19, recalled one man who was making a bed on the sidewalk in Portland, when the youngster approached with a sack lunch.

“I gave him the lunch, and he put it right next to his bed,” Jackson said. “When he got in his bed, that’s when he started to eat his lunch.”

It took two trips to the camp downtown to complete the Lider’s challenge, Trisha said. The second time, Trisha remembered a pregnant women she had seen before and promptly bagged up maternity clothes she had in the closet. Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The family travels with a box in the back seat to carry Jacksons lunches. When they come across someone standing on a street median, Jackson rolls down his window and hands them a brown bag lunch.

“Going down there really opened our eyes about the homeless,” Trisha said. “I took three garbage bags of maternity clothes down to the camp, and the woman I gave them to was just shocked. I think she must have been homeless for a long time because she didn’t know what to say.”

Robert called the experience “humbling.”

“I think people just don’t see it,” he said. “But when you start taking food out there, it’s shocking how many people there are. Jack understands now that there are people who don’t have anything to eat. He doesn’t fuss about his food anymore, saying he doesn’t like something. He understands it now more than when he started.”

While Jackson’s one-little-guy crusade to just feed people is enough to melt hearts, Trisha and Robert’s story could have gone another direction.

Robert, a native of England, moved to the United States six years ago, following his heart. He and Trisha had met online and gotten acquainted via a few visits between the two countries. But when Robert arrived on U.S. soil, he had a wife, a child on the way and no job. The young family was dependent on Trisha’s salary from her job at the Highland Safeway.

“We were so lucky that my family was able to help us,” Trisha said. “Otherwise we could have ended up homeless. Robert’s first job was only minimum wage, so it was tight.”

Robert eventually landed a good job with the Fred Meyer Distribution Center in Clackamas, where he still works. Trisha remains employed at Safeway and they are expecting their second child later this fall.

Photo Credit: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Jackson, who will turn 7 on July 19, will be a second-grader at Hall Elementary this fall and wants to be a police officer when he grows up. On the rear window of the Clark’s little red sedan is a sticker reading “Practice Kindness.” The youngster in the back seat embodies the message.

“We have a box next to Jackson’s booster seat,” Trisha said. “If we pass somebody on the street with a sign, he just rolls down the window and hands them a bag. It’s nothing to pop your window down and hand someone a sack lunch. We’re not doing this to be thanked — people just need to eat.”

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