The cafeteria is more or less the heart of the complex. Walking in, the feeling of hope radiates everywhere, from the 60-gallon soup pot to the 120 pounds of sizzling ground beef to the dozen or so spotless cafeteria tables decorated with mugs and napkins to the residents cooking, cleaning and preparing the kitchen for the next swarm of people.
A worker yells, “It’s Mexican night tonight.” A permanent, distinguishable smile sculpted from ear to ear.
Created 50 years ago in a little corner shop in the heart of Eugene, the Eugene Mission began serving homeless men who needed a bed to crash in and some sustenance in their bellies.
The 1960s urban sprawl pushed the mission out of the downtown area to a farmhouse inside city limits. The seven-acre complex is what more than 400 homeless men, women and their children call home.
Friday afternoon, chaplain Brad Chambers humbly allowed me to view a site of such unselfishness and kindness.
“A lot of people are here because of tragedies — either health issues, poor decisions, drugs, the bad economy, domestic violence and much more,” remarks Chambers. “We provide the basics: food, bed and gospel.”
And every morning, afternoon and evening, approximately 600 people line up to get their share of hope.
The mission is based on Christian principles and requires every resident to attend chapel at 7 p.m.
“They need to attend, but if they want to close their eyes and chose not to listen that’s fine,” Chambers said. “We don’t force it on people.”
Staying at the Eugene Mission requires a small fee of $2 after three nights. For those who are unable to afford it, the mission lets them work sorting newspapers from the red boxes placed around Eugene or finding jobs and chores to help out around the place.
“We never turn anyone away because of money,” Chambers says.
The mission also comes with promises of working and moving up in position.
“The very same people who come here for help are running the place,” Chambers says.
As for Chambers, never in a million years did he ever imagine himself working here. Graduating from school in Denver, Chambers planned to continue the tradition invested in his entrepreneurial blood.
After some time living the life of a young man, Chambers thought, “There had to be more to life than making money and getting rich.”
Chambers found the word of God and transformed his life. “I did some missionary work, and got my first job working the front desk at a Salvation Army in Salem, ” Chambers continues, ” and for the first time I felt totally at home — I could be real.”
Chambers then lived and traveled in an RV, bound to his mission. “I could meet people anywhere they were.”
The Eugene Mission has employed Chambers for three years, and he’s heard hundreds of testimonies and witnessing the growth of individuals only deepens his faith.
“The longest someone has been here is 30 years; everyone is allowed to stay as long as they would like,” Chambers said.
If the beds on the men’s and women’s sleeping porches are filled up at night, the mission finds extra mattresses for people to sleep on.
“We’ve never had to turn anyone away for that. We can never not find more room.”
Glancing up at the pictures affixed inside the Eugene Mission’s office, I could see the physical growth of the Mission throughout its last 50 years. The atmosphere of hope and renewal lingered inside every room and every resident. A bed, shelter and food are basic human needs that can sometimes be the most difficult commodities to find.
I never really understood why there were so many homeless people who travel down to Eugene with their belongings and stories in tote.
But now I do.