300 tired, sullen faces light up as they are welcomed in through the opening doors to the companionship of familiar faces and a warm, hearty dinner. The guests walk down the line as the volunteers dish up a heaping serving of spaghetti with a side of crisp garlic bread and steaming vegetables. This is the night they look forward to all week, when they can briefly escape from life’s constant battle and simply enjoy one another’s company as normal human beings.
As the guests carry their heaping plates of food to find a seat, Janice Swan, a woman with grey hair and a gentle disposition walks out of the kitchen wearing a simple red apron. “Does anyone have a prayer request?” she says in a soft voice with a tender smile, gingerly placing her hand on the woman’s shoulder in front of her. The guests look at her with fatigued, confused expressions, some of them not knowing what exactly she is asking. Once she explains and hands begin to rise, she kneels beside each individual, bowing her head and whispering a prayer unique to each guest. This gracious woman has dedicated much of her life to making Street Ministry a reality.
Street Ministry provides a temporary home for the homeless. Homeless, lonely, mentally unstable, recovering addicts, and recently released from prison are all encouraged to take advantage of the resources Street Ministry has to offer and regain control of their lives. For the last four years, Janice and her husband Bob have been directing the Eugene non-profit. “Our ultimate goal,” co-director Swan says, “is restoring these people’s self-dignity, giving them the education they need and helping them become legitimate and successful contributors to our society. We want to help ‘takers’ become givers.”
As dinner winds down, Swan announces that there will be a musical performance by some of the guests. She welcomes everyone to join and closes with a religious message and a prayer. She walks to join her husband and he puts an arm around her shoulder. They stand together, beaming proudly at the success of the night.
Swan has always had the dream to help those in need while sharing the word of God. “Seeing people come to know the lord and have hope and change the parts of their life that aren’t working for them is really a miracle,” says Swan. Street Ministry was an ambitious dream that Swan and her husband have helped bring to a reality. They started small, but soon the organization grew past their initial expectations. Beginning by handing out food to a few homeless people downtown, they now feed a few hundred at their weekly dinner.
With the expansion Street Ministry has experienced, Swan has found herself busier than ever trying to fulfill the needs of those who need it most. With the struggling economy, people have been less willing to give donations, but unfortunately there are more people in need of the donations. “The biggest challenge is depending upon the lord for sustenance and the money that comes in. We really depend upon the lord to bring the people in that have the same vision that we do.”As a non-profit that receives no federal funding, Swan struggles with finding a way to continue providing for the needy
One solution to this problem has been the opening of Streets Food Cart. Swan noticed that many of their regulars were ex-convicts who couldn’t find work after prison. Wanting to keep these people out of the common post-prison cycle of not finding a job and falling back into old habits, Street Ministry opened the food cart. “Our folks would work in the businesses, they would run the businesses, and they would learn some job skills. It’s endless what you could do,” Swan says. Swan believes in encouraging workers to be self sufficient and get back on their feet, even after prison.
Building a home for the homeless and providing for the needy may have sounded like an unrealistic idea at its inception, but with a caring heart and compassionate drive, Janice Swan has brought this idea to life. She believes Street Ministry’s services could be just what someone needs to turn his or her life around. “Our heart is to get out of say 200 people; maybe there are two that evening that say ‘I’m done with this. I’ve got to get help, I’ve got to get off the street,’” Swan says.