Melinda* had been asking me for months to cook up something so we could serve it together at the Veterans Coming Home Center, a drop-in day center for the unsheltered in Springfield, Missouri. Since she was the sweetest woman on the planet, it was too hard to tell her no. I agreed and the rest is history. First monthly then more and more often, I’d happily add rolls or cold drinks to her meals and be there to help serve them up. A short time later, I added Tuesday night outreach and, eventually, began cooking entire meals at Vets.
I started passing out hugs too and learning their names and they mine. I recognized little quirks about them like who didn’t want their food touching on their plates and how many sugars and creamers another took in his coffee. Some started telling their stories as they began to feel like I could be trusted. Some stories I have only heard once, and I’m glad as they are too shocking and painful to hear again. Others, I’ve heard over and over because the memories are too hard or too wonderful for them to stop reliving. Either way, this new crowd became my friends.
words + photographs KATRIN SCOTT
During this time, I called my life normal. I had driven all over the country, taking one son to basketball tournaments while trying to be the most fun mom my older son’s girlfriend ever met. Both my boys went to college on scholarships. One for sports and one for academics. That meant I was the epitome of perfect, right? Not hardly. There had been a time in my life I didn’t do anything right. Drove my parents plumb crazy. Eventually, that wild side burned so many bridges there wasn’t much left for collateral damage. I did get it together but not without ever forgiving myself. And that was OK cause it didn’t feel like too many others forgave me either. Nevertheless, I pushed through. Said yes to every single ask from my church, tried all the newest recipes out, kept the house pristine. Even got myself through some college to a better job, and always, without fail, doing that weekly gig with the unsheltered. Perfect life, right?
Apparently not because on March 7, 2015, at 9:57 p.m., two deputies came to my home to tell me I would never see my oldest son again. I melted to the floor in a puddle. I remember hearing the officers professionally deliver all the details, but I couldn’t tell you what they said. My world was spinning violently off its rotation, and all I could do was lay there in ball. Somehow I was able to coach myself silently to do the hardest thing ever: keep taking the next breath. Keep telling my heart to beat.
It was then my life lost all color. I only had two time periods: BRD and ARD (before Riley** died and after Riley died). I was really, really angry some days I could be so careless as to let this happen and other days because I so hated that God would let this happen to me. I quit eating and sleeping. All I could do was obsess over how can I fix it. There was surely a deal I could make to somehow get my son back. All this time, I hadn’t been to outreach or anything, and I kept hearing my unsheltered friends were asking about me. They had been told of my loss and some of them were genuinely worried. Still I stayed away. I didn’t think it would be fair to bring my sadness around anyone who didn’t have to be around it. A couple of months went by, and my younger son came home from college and said, “We are having a baby.” You know that screeching noise when you scratch a record? That’s what my brain was doing. I’m thinking, “Wait, you can’t have a baby! You don’t have a wife yet!” My beliefs and assumptions about what life’s order was must be so misconstrued. Said son would go on to tell me he was giving up his basketball scholarship, quitting college and going to the police academy. I mean, just push me off a cliff already. How could the rest of the world still be moving when I was swallowed under by quicksand?
On Dec. 13 of that same year, I would find myself melted in a puddle of tears on the floor again. This time in the hall of Mercy hospital with my newborn grandson’s first cry on the other side of the door. This time, those tears released a lot of pain and were filled back up with a new kind of peace.
I knew immediately I had to go back to volunteering. There were people right there around me who needed to see even when you made bad choices, or you were just a victim of someone else’s pain, or things just didn’t come out how you planned, you still had things to live for. Even in the darkest despair, there was always a purpose for everyone. I’ve been all in since, trying my best to make sure everyone had at least one person believing in them and telling them to keep trying one more thing.
Through my eight years of working with the unsheltered, all of the things have not been pretty. In fact, a lot of them haven’t. But I have grown. I have immense appreciation for someone who can put on that armor and keep going day after day. I have been fiercely protected and deeply loved by my unsheltered friends. Some of them don’t even know it, but their simple appreciation and seeing their faces is what carried me through some days when grief was consuming me. It is because of this I started Friendship Day.
Friendship Day is a legitimate holiday on the calendar. Our Friendship Day is a chance for all our service providers and advocates to sit down for a meal with our unsheltered friends and honor those friends for the goodness they bring into our lives. They get ushered to tables and order from a menu just like at a 5-star restaurant. There is a live band and a dessert cart with all kinds of homemade pies. There are centerpieces and tablecloths. There are gifts for all the guests and, most importantly, there are smiles. We owe them this because I can promise you, you have never been loved until you have been loved by someone who had nothing else to give you but themselves. One year, one of our sweet little gals requested the song “Lord, I Hope This Day is Good.” The band obliged, and little Nancy danced her heart out. Not long after, she died unexpectedly. Thank goodness she was able to get that dance in and have that moment. And thank goodness we got to see that smile. That is what most of us will always remember about her.
So many times society says, “Why don’t they get a job?” when referring to the unsheltered community. Over the years, I learned the deep struggles our unsheltered friends face simply make it impossible. This made it an easy choice when my church gifted me a former FEMA response trailer. I founded the nonprofit No Reservations, and made it a food trailer. I started with a handful of friends and just really pour into them, giving them grace upon grace until they started chipping away the hard stuff and replacing it with the confidence and knowledge to make steps forward. Some are felons. Some are addicts. Some are mentally ill. Some are a combination of all those things. But they are my team. They are worthy. They have roles and are important and belong and they are growing. In the six months of running the food truck, we have had one team member pay off all his court costs. Two have their licenses back. One has a car. One is now working with Voc Rehab to get into culinary school. Sometimes there are setbacks. We have bad days and bad moods and bad judgement on occasion that makes things harder, but we also have God’s grace. We have to recognize we are all at different paces and in different seasons. We have to recognize that to fully embrace others. I am learning with them. I’ve too many times let others’ judgements hold me down, but I’m learning to give myself grace, as well.
Purchase a Thanksgiving dinner package from No Reservations Food Trailer and help provide delivered meals to shut-ins and others in need.
Three package sizes to choose from. Dinners include starter, sides, main dish, dessert and rolls. Free delivery within Greene County, Missouri, and a 10-mile radius.
Being friends with and loved by the unsheltered community helps keep me grounded in what matters and what doesn’t. I’m less tolerant of relationships or situations only made of surface feelings. It’s great to make sandwiches and pass them out, but when you go home from doing so, do you remember how blue the eyes were of someone in line? Did you get to know someone’s name? Did you give a hug or pat on the back? Did you really let know someone you care? I have a saying on our food truck, “Did your action just serve a sole purpose or a soul purpose?” It makes all the difference. And when you are able to fill others’ souls, you will begin to feel peace and joy in your own.
Every moment of every day, I do not stop missing Riley. He is ever present, even though he is not here. There is no glue to fix my broken heart. No pain meds that numb the agony. But being a member of the child-loss parents club has taught me compassion beyond understanding. Grieving parents are deep healers, life changers, survivors. I am one. And I am strong because I hurt. KS
* Melinda Welch was lost in 2020 due to complications stemming from COVID-19. She is a legend among all volunteers, and her legacy to love others without judgement will never be forgotten.
** Riley loved hard. He loved the world and he loved the people on it. Through me, he continues to reach lives every single day.
*** J. Alan Scott, my father, was also lost in 2020 due to complications from COVID-19. His drive to always work hard and to keep trying, even when it was messy, made me who I am today.
More from Homegrown Journal
Victory Mission + MinistrySpringfield, Missouri I poked my head inside my father’s bedroom door. “Can I come in,” I asked. He gestured for me to […]
Victory MissionSpringfield, Missouri I have enjoyed doing volunteer work at Victory Mission + Ministry for about six years. My wife and I retired from serving […]
Dogwood RanchOzark, Missouri Volunteers at Dogwood Ranch each have their own journey that brings them to this special place. I just so happened to stumble […]