Downtown mission gives meaning to SE Portland man’s life

See how Union Gospel Mission does more than feed the downtrodden and homeless on Thanksgiving Day at their downtown facility …

Before coming to their program, he was living on the street. Now, David Johnson, the Facility Manager at Portland Gospel Mission, says the new kitchen and equipment will helped them feed hundreds on homeless on Thanksgiving Day.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
This year, the Union Gospel Mission served nearly 1,000 Thanksgiving Day dinners to the homeless and hopeless, as they have for decades, at their downtown Portland location.

Making the traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, vegetables and pie, served by over 200 volunteers, was a bit easier this year, thanks to their brand new commercial kitchen and serving area, opened just in time for the holiday.

But, the Mission does more than feed the downtrodden, as we learned from David Johnson, their current facility manager, as he helped ready the new kitchen for service.

“About 3 ½ years ago, I was in prison,” Johnson admitted, adding that it wasn’t first time he was jail. “I was mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused as a child; and pretty much lived on the streets in the ‘felony flats’ area. When I’d get out of jail, I’d go back there, because that was the area I knew.”

Johnson said his trouble with the law came about because he used and dealt drugs in the neighborhood. “Before my last arrest, I lived near the Springwater Trail. I was homeless, living by Johnson Creek, doing methamphetamine and cocaine. I spent my life, running from all kinds of authority. I was totally in despair and loss.

“Then I went to jail – again.”

Johnson said he realized he didn’t want to continue living as he had been. “The last time I was in prison was when I accepted the Lord into my heart. And, it was there I heard about the Union Gospel Mission.”

Upon his release, he was accepted into the Mission’s “LifeChange” program.

“Some of the changes I’ve experienced since I’ve been here have been a change of the heart,” Johnson said. “Physically – I don’t look like I’m starving now – it’s been a very healthy change for me. Along with building my health, I also am building myself spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, to where I am today.”

A continuing program
Although Johnson will graduate from the LifeChange program in September, he said, “It’s not like a treatment program, where when you’re done, you’re out on your own. The LifeChange community continues to offer unending support. I’ll continue the process of renewing of the mind, the heart, working through deep-seated issues. This is a safe place to do that.”

Johnson looked over the new kitchen equipment, and said, “This is so incredible; sometimes I get teary-eyed when I see how much our donors love us. Our old kitchen was very small. This new kitchen will help us in the LifeChange program – we actually do the work of the mission, like feeding the homeless – carrying on the work.”

In addition to his occupation downtown, Johnson has participated in community outreach work, he said – such as the Compassion Southeast events at Woodmere Elementary School. “It meant a lot to me to be able to provide positive service, right in the neighborhood from which I took so much. I am a living testament to the good that comes from the support, love, and care that the Mission’s donors have provided.”

The Mission’s Communications Director, Stacy Kean, shows off the new serving area in their downtown service area.

How you can help
“This time of year, our needs are great especially over the holidays,” confided the Mission’s communications director, Stacy Kean. “Food, clothing and financial donations are very welcome. Your donation does more than buy a dinner for a homeless person – it can change a person’s life.”

For more information CLICK HERE to view their website, or, call (503) 274-4483.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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