The line begins to form the minute the word gets out.
“The burritos are here!”
“Hey, everybody! The burritos are here!”
They line up with their backpacks, grocery bags and sleeping bags. Some have children; some are in wheelchairs. On the busiest days, the line stretches to the back door and beyond. For some, it’s the first good meal in a long time.
At the front of the line is a table with coolers of steaming breakfast burritos, jars of salsa, jugs of orange juice. Richard Jackson and his wife, Sharman, smile as they serve it up.
The scene plays out Saturday mornings at Corpus Christi House, a day shelter for the homeless at 525 S. Americana Boulevard. Cooper Court, the tent city that made headlines for weeks before the city shut it down in 2015, was in the alley immediately behind the shelter. The Saturday burritos had their beginnings in Cooper Court.
And in a calling. The Jacksons believe a higher power was responsible.
“One day Richard said he thought he knew that we were supposed to go and feed God’s people,” Sharman said. “We took some food to Ann Morrison Park because that’s where we thought we’d find homeless people, but it was a Saturday and there weren’t any homeless people there.
“Then we drove by Cooper Court and saw all those people sleeping in tents and Richard said, ‘I think that’s where we’re supposed to be.’”
In addition to being homeless, many of Cooper Court’s residents were addicted to alcohol or drugs. The irony wasn’t lost on the Jacksons, both of whom are recovering addicts who have been homeless themselves.
“I was an addict for 30 years or more,” Sharman said. “I got in trouble and went to jail because of drugs.”
Richard was “addicted to meth and marijuana for 35 years. I was pretty much an everyday user. If I didn’t have it, I didn’t get out of bed or do much of anything. All I cared about was myself and my wife, and she was addicted, too.”
The Jacksons are fortunate. They’re among the small percentage of people who overcome chronic addiction. They are also deeply religious. They say their lives turned around when they found God, some seven and a half years ago.
“That’s when I stopped doing drugs, Richard said. “And I still have my faculties about me. That’s rare for someone who did it as long as I did.”
Not only do they have their faculties about them; Richard is a successful businessman. He does network marketing and owns a maintenance and remodeling company. Sharman is retired, but helps with both businesses.
The’ve been feeding the homeless on Saturday mornings for nearly two years now. They started with sack lunches.
“When we went there on that first day, we had no idea that so many people would be there,” Sharman said. “We ran out of food way too soon.”
“We had about 30 sack lunches,” Richard added. “The size of the crowd when we got there was jaw-dropping to me. We didn’t even make it a quarter of the way through the alleyway before we ran out of sandwiches.
“When we first started walking through, we were getting scowled at. When we came back a second time carrying more sandwiches, the people who were scowling were smiling and friendly. That one act of kindness changed the atmosphere completely.”
When the city shut down Cooper Court, he said, “we spent a couple of weeks looking for the people who had been there. Then we came here (to Corpus Christi) and asked where they’d gone. When the people here realized that we were the burrito people, they invited us to come here on Saturdays. We’ve been here ever since.”
On a typical Saturday, they make and serve from 120 to 150 burritos. On busy days – when its cold or wet outside or late in the month when the people in line are low on money – it can be close to 200. They make sausage, ham and plain burritos, plain being a relative term. All of the burritos contain eggs, potatoes and cheese.
The ingredients initially cost the Jacksons $150 to $170 a week.
“The Love Center Ministry supplies us with about 80 percent of the food now,” Richard said. “Because of that, it’s only costing us about $60 a week.”
Their church, Life Church in Meridian, lets them use its kitchen to make the the burritos. Volunteers help. It takes about two hours. The Jacksons arrive at the shelter between 8:30 and 9 a.m. By then, the crowd is waiting.
“They’re here even when it’s snowing,” said a homeless woman who asked not to be identified. “I don’t think they’ve ever missed. Their burritos are all freshly made and tasty, and they’re always pleasant and have an encouraging word for people.”
Rick Bollman, Corpus Christi’s operations manager, says the Jacksons bring more than food:
“They give our guests validation. It’s validating for them to know that someone cares enough to do this for them every week.”
A guest named Samira added that they “don’t care what race or religion you are. They don’t ask you about your ancestry or what God you pray to. They do this for the love of humanity.”
The perspective from the other side of the table?
“We can see the joy in their faces,” Richard said. “We can see the hope there. It makes us feel amazing. Sometimes it makes me get tears in my eyes.”
“It gives you a good feeling inside to help people,” Sharman added. “That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?”
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.