Every Friday by 6 a.m. Jean and Gene Cross are in the basement of Central United Methodist Church in Ballston preparing breakfast for Arlington’s homeless. The husband and wife team who jokingly refer to themselves, as the “two Jeans” have been regular volunteers of the church’s breakfast program since its inception three years ago.
“People were already waiting at six today,” said Jean. “They will come in and they’re willing to help us with some of the tasks, like peeling potatoes and chopping onions and everybody is having a good time.” The meal is served from 8 a.m. until noon.
One of those waiting to come in from the cold weather was a homeless man who had spent the night outside. “Everything he had with him froze but his after-shave,” Jean said.
Jean said when the program started a few years ago, volunteer members of the church were just serving doughnuts and coffee. As word spread about the breakfast and number of people served grew, the volunteers determined that it was more cost effective for them to cook the breakfast, rather than purchasing doughnuts.
“I heard about the breakfast two years ago and it is the best breakfast in Arlington,” said Steven Brown, one of the regular faces at the meal. Brown, who was born in D.C., said he likes the “nice people” in Arlington.
Brown praised the baked egg casserole and the pancakes but said what he appreciates the most are the hugs from Jean. Brown explained that it’s lonely being homeless and he greatly misses the affection from his late mother. When told about Brown’s comment, Jean smiled and said, “Oh, he’s a hugger!”
Solomon Abawi, a social worker with A-SPAN (Arlington Street People Assistance Network) said, “I come here just to make sure everything is running smoothly.” Abawi brings clothing and hygiene products for the clients; he also offers assistance with medical appointments as well as other services. “We try to do what we can to get them back on their feet—they just need a boost,” Abawi said.
Funding for the meal comes from the congregation and a bequest from the Methodist church, explained Gene. Some of the volunteers will help for an hour or two before work, while others are there the entire time to help with all aspects, including washing dishes and cleaning up.
Gene is grateful for everyone’s assistance but one particular donation was especially appreciated. A client, who earns money by playing the ukulele at metro stations and Redskin’s games, approached Gene around Christmas. “He reached in his pocket and pulls out two singles and a five dollar bill and he says as he gives me the $5, ‘I really appreciate what you’re doing and I’d like you to have this.’” He added that the man has continued with his remarkable generosity. “We have the first $5 in a frame,” Gene said.
When asked what others might be surprised to learn about the homeless who come to the breakfast, Gene said most people have a stereotypical idea about the man who is panhandling or holding a sign asking for help.
“They hide in plain sight,” he said adding, “They are not the people you think they are-- they are kind, gentle people.”
To learn more, visit www.cumcballston.org and www.a-span.org.