By Jessica Brodie
GREENVILLE—Eddie Jackson has been homeless for five years.
“It’s hard—you’ve got to worry about the cops, where your next meal’s coming from, got to sleep on the streets,” Jackson said.
But one thing that keeps him going is the free hot breakfast he gets every Monday morning at Triune Mercy Center. For the past two years, rain or shine and even on holidays, Triune has hosted the free breakfast, a ministry organized by Bethel United Methodist Church, Simpsonville. Bethel, with help from a handful of other local churches, including their sister church, Ebenezer UMC, Greer, offers the weekly breakfast for anyone in need, no questions asked.
“I enjoy it,” Jackson said, carefully peeling back the foil on his butter before stirring it into his grits. The grits, along with scrambled eggs, a variety of breakfast meats, fresh fruit, yogurt, hot coffee and real juice, keep him coming back week after week for a bit of sustenance before he heads out for the day, looking for work and any other way he can make it.
Jackson is one of about 9,300 people served at the breakfast ministry since it opened in 2015. Every Monday around 5 a.m., a team of volunteers—Dennis and Harriett Dease along with Terrie Pyle, Rick Jeffcoat, Marcia Shadday, Elizabeth Jarrett, Sissy Beck, Rosa Byrd and Donna Whatley—shows up at Triune to cook eggs and other breakfast food and prepare for the hundred or so people who come for breakfast at 7 a.m. And come they do, riding bikes or walking from the nearby shelters; the Salvation Army is two blocks north, and Miracle Hill’s rescue mission is about a mile southwest.
Dennis Dease, member of Bethel, started the breakfast ministry there with his wife, Harriett, and fellow volunteer Jarrett, their close friend. The trio had volunteered together for seven years at the breakfast ministry offered by John Wesley UMC in downtown Greenville, but when that ministry closed in 2014, the Deases and Jarrett knew they needed to do something to keep it going. After all, Greenville’s homeless population is on the rise, and as Dease said, “These guys often don’t eat till lunch.”
Jarrett and Dease approached the Rev. Deb Richardson-Moore, pastor of Triune Mercy Center, which is well known as a hub for helping the many homeless people in Greenville.
“This is where they are; you have to come where they are,” Dease said.
The rest is history. Now two years strong, their ministry shows no sign of slowing down, and Dease is hoping they can soon expand their efforts to a second breakfast each week.
Even though Bethel is a small church, with just 36 average worship attendance each Sunday, that doesn’t stop the congregation from dreaming big. The church is so much more than the size of its congregation, and the partnership is even bigger. Not only did they help support John Wesley's Breakfast Ministry for seven years, but they are also the main financial support for the Triune breakfast.
Jarrett, of Christ Church Episcopal, Greenville, coordinates a team of students who help serve breakfast throughout the year for community service hours, and the breakfast ministry also draws volunteers from local Baptist, Catholic and nondenominational churches.
Jarrett said the breakfast ministry is a fulfilling way to help in the name of Jesus.
“When you go and meet people and hear their stories, you see they’re people and not just a stereotype; they have feelings,” Jarrett said, noting the ministry is sorely needed not only for the food it provides but for the opportunity for people to cross socioeconomic boundaries and build relationships.
Dease agreed. “These people are just like me. Maybe they’ve made bad choices or had some bad breaks, but they need nourishment. To me, they’re my friends.”
He’s known some of the regulars for more than nine years.
“We know their aches and pains, when they’re sick,” Dease said. “A lot of them are very religious, say a prayer before they eat. Some know the Bible better than I do.”
The day the Advocate visited, several former Christ Episcopal students on break from Davidson College had returned to help. Liam Barr, sophomore, said he loves connecting with people “who society just kind of marginalizes,” and fellow student Julie Bennett said for her, it’s all about building relationships, and sharing a meal is always a good way to help with that.
“Everyone’s got to eat. Food is a necessity, but it’s also a cultural gathering,” Bennett said.
Daniel Sargent, who will be a freshman at Furman University in August, is a member of the youth ministry at Ebenezer UMC and a frequent volunteer at the breakfast. He said he gets a lot out of volunteering there.
“It’s nice to see people here. Even though they have so little, they still have a lot of joy and hope,” Sargent said. “It feels good to help those who have so little.”
Dease hasn’t always been such an active volunteer. His wife, a registered nurse, was always giving and serving others, he said, but he was too busy working long hours. He retired in 2006, and the next year he began asking God what He wanted him to do. At first he volunteered at Salkehatchie Summer Service.
“Then God put a little thing on my mind: you’ve got to do something for the homeless,” Dease said. “That’s when my whole life changed.”
Richardson-Moore said Triune has 65 partner churches that help their homeless outreach in a variety of ways; she said she and Triune really appreciate what Bethel and the other churches do to help.
“That’s just how we operate,” Richardson-Moore said. “We’re open six days a week, and those six days a lot of it is complete outreach services to the homeless.”
In addition to the breakfast ministry, they have two social workers, lawyers, a mental health counselor, a Wednesday food pantry, someone who does drug and alcohol rehabilitation outreach, another who helps women get out of the sex trade, four hot meals a week—“anything we can think of to help Greenville’s homeless people to get back on their feet.”
Standing in Triune’s kitchen scrambling eggs, Harriett Dease shrugs when asked why she puts in so much time week after week to help others.
“I’m an RN, I’m a caregiver; it’s just inborn for me to help,” she said. “It breaks my heart to see people not have food and shelter.”
By Jessica Brodie