Friday, November 27, 2009

Father & Daughter make sacks lunch for homeless on Thanksgiving

A father's donation of food leads to family tradition

By Amy Hsuan, The Oregonian
November 26, 2009, 6:07PM

Olivia Bucks/The OregonianIn front of the Portland Rescue Mission, Stephanie Jones, 9, center, passes out brown bag dinners to the homeless Wednesday night while her father, Kwik Jones, wearing black hat, carries a box filled with the bagged dinners.Each brown paper bag holds a few slices of turkey on white bread, packets of mustard and mayonnaise, a bag of chips and a box of juice.

It's a meal that 9-year-old Stephanie Jones might pack for school at Beach Elementary in Northeast Portland.

But on the eve of Thanksgiving, each brown bag also holds a gift of goodwill to 100 men and women living on the streets.

Every family has their Thanksgiving traditions, and Jones and her father, Kwik, have theirs: For the past four years, they've made sack meals for the homeless.

"It makes me happy," says Jones, a fourth-grader. "I want them to have a home, too."

This year, like every year, the brown bags went a long way on a cold Wednesday night.

For the father and daughter, each holds a quiet lesson in humanity and a reminder of life's riches.

For the crowd of men and women standing outside the Portland Rescue Mission, the modest meal was a simple gesture that spoke volumes.

Wading through the crowd, Jones held a sack lunch in her small outstretched hand. At the receiving end, a wrinkled man in a tattered coat reached out.

"God bless you," he said. "You're an angel."

An inspired tradition

It started with $30 and a stroke of inspiration.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 2006, Kwik Jones had a production-job paycheck in his pocket and a generous feeling.

"God just put it in my heart," says Jones, 36. "I wanted to do something."

Jones had enough money for two loaves of bread, two packs of sandwich meat and some other supplies. It stretched to 20 meals.

It wasn't much, but it was enough.

From a working-class Arkansas family, Jones wanted to teach his daughter an important life lesson. He and his wife, Maria, both work to support their blended family of seven children. They aren't rich by any means, but say they feel fortunate for what they have.

"This is something she'll store in her mind always," Jones says. "We're obligated to help the poor. I want her to know it's her responsibility in this community to help others."

Stephanie, 6 years old at the time, was happy to help. The duo headed downtown, where Jones remembered seeing crowds of homeless sleeping on sidewalks. When they arrived, they realized some of the people in line wouldn't be fed when the shelters ran out of food.

Afterward, Stephanie asked her father, "Can we do this again?"

A Thanksgiving tradition was born.

Olivia Bucks/The OregonianUnderneath the Burnside Bridge, Stephanie Jones, 9, left and her father, Kwik Jones, carry brown bag dinners to the homeless.A humbling distribution

The following year, Jones started saving early. He put away $80. And the pair assembled 100 sack dinners, which they distributed with the help of Stephanie's oldest brother.

Last year, Jones, who also writes and produces plays, had money leftover from one of his shows. With $130, Jones recruited his childhood friend Ayric Payton for help. Payton, 37, enlisted a couple of his kids.

Together, the Joneses and the Paytons made 175 sack dinners. In front of the Rescue Mission, the bags were gone in minutes.

"It's humbling," says Payton, a Coca-Cola salesman. "We're not giving them much. It's not turkey, it's not gravy, not stuffing. My job is good, but it wouldn't take that long, especially in this economy, for me to end up homeless."

The feeling spread to his children.

"I want to do it every year," says son Ayric Thomas, 18, a recent Parkrose High School graduate. "The people are nice. They take what they can get."

This year, the economy took its toll on the families' finances. But at the last minute, members at their church, Hughes Memorial United Methodist, chipped in for enough food for 100 sack meals.

It wasn't as much as last year, but it was enough.

Already Jones has started fundraising. After handing out bags Wednesday night, he held a small performance of his new play at the Someday Lounge in Chinatown. He called the fundraiser "The Brown Bag Benefit."

"I'm trying to raise awareness, hoping that we'll inspire people to do something for their community," Jones says. "Even this little thing we do means something to a lot of people."