›› Full hearts rarely accompany empty stomachs. Jesus understood that simple truth. He fed 5,000 with just a few loaves of bread and small fish. Often, he implored his followers to feed the hungry. You don’t have to dig too deep into your Bible to find Jesus connected to food.
Bishop Charles Jackson takes those teachings to heart. Food, Jackson insists, is a vital tool for a pastor. That’s doubly true in the neighborhoods along East Colfax Avenue, where hunger is a part of daily life for the homeless and downtrodden. First, nourish the body. Then you can nourish the soul.
“It’s hard to spread the gospel when someone is looking at you and their stomach is singing the national anthem in groans and pains because it’s hungry,” the jovial pastor said. “You just can’t do it.”
Every Wednesday and Thursday at In His Care Word of Life Miracle Deliverance Church, ministry through meals is on the menu. About 25 people generally stroll through the doors of the church at 1565 Elmira St., looking for a hot meal. Jackson said in the two years the church has been offering free meals, they’ve served as many as 45 people in one day, a crowd that easily fills the small back room where meals are served.
The meals at In His Care vary. On hot summer days, Jackson fires up the grill and serves hot dogs and barbecue on the church’s lawn. On a bright day last March, Jackson manned the stove in the cramped kitchen at the back of the church and served up a hulking tin full of taco pie. His wife, Cynthia, served the meal with plenty of hot sauce and jalapeños.
With its twice-a-week meal program, In His Care fills a void in this northwest Aurora neighborhood, where the homeless population is easy to spot. Men with nowhere else to go sleep where they can, or kill time on the benches near the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Some in the city have said Aurora doesn’t have any homeless, but a stroll on Colfax quickly proves that assertion false.
And while the city — and in particular the gritty stretches of Colfax — doesn’t lack for people in need, it does lack in services. There’s no homeless shelter in Aurora, and Friends of St. Andrew near Dallas Street and Colfax is the only soup kitchen regularly operating. For Aurora’s neediest, the list of helping agencies doesn’t stretch much past Friends, Aurora Warms the Night and Comitis Crisis Center.
As he wolfed down a plate of taco pie, Steve Allen, 49, lamented the city’s lack of support services. “Denver has the resources, Aurora has virtually none,” he said. “This is one of them where they know they can come and get a hot meal.”
Allen has been coming to In His Care for a hot lunch for a few months. He heard about the place from some friends, who assured him it was a solid place to get a good meal, and a little something extra.
“It’s spiritual, you hear a lot of the word of God while you’re eating,” he said. “When you have good conversation, good food, and you are around good people — it’s like a horse race, it’s the trifecta.”
The beaten-down neighborhoods along Colfax are the ideal place for Jackson. Growing up in California, Jackson got his start in ministry by working with the neediest in his community. It’s Colfax today, but in his younger days, when he and his family were members of North Oakland Missionary Baptist Church, he spent his days along the equally colorful San Pablo Boulevard.
“That’s where my heart became enlarged with compassion for people that don’t have, people that are in need of, people that are reaching out for help. That’s all I saw all my life,” he said.
The similarities between San Pablo and Colfax are easy to spot. Both have high drug use, plenty of alcohol abuse and an ever-present homeless population. And over his years in both places, Jackson learned that a hot meal is one of the best ways to break through the tough exterior a rough life puts on the soul.
“If you’re hungry, you are going to say ‘I’m hungry,’” Jackson said. “The first thing you will cry out for when you are in need is food.”
Two days a week, a handful of hungry folks along Colfax don’t have to cry out.
Helping Aurora’s Homeless
Aurora’s “homeless problem” is well-documented but services for helping homeless are still fairly sparse. Aside from Aurora Warms the Night, some emergency shelters and outreach organizations, options for the chronically homeless in Aurora is still relatively hard to find.
According to the metro-wide Point in Time survey, more than 400 people in Aurora identified themselves as homeless last year. In that same survey, more than one in four homeless in Aurora say they are mentally ill, and nearly half are black.
Options like the Arapahoe House, Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Housing Authority exist, but due to limited funding, those agencies are only able to help a small portion of the people who live on the street.