Michael Matarese realized his wife wasn't coming back.
He dove into the rum, trying to drink “enough courage to eat a bullet from a 9 mm pistol.”
Then there's Gary, who asked his last name not be used. He sold his transportation, a 1980 Chrysler, for $50 so he could buy some meth.
About 600 people are expected Thursday for Grace Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving meal, which is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Exchange Avenue Church, 1300 S Pennsylvania.
Matarese and Gary plan to be there, giving thanks. They think back to the days of suicidal thoughts and meth and are thankful they are alive for Thanksgiving 2012. They're thankful they're sober, and have been for some time. They're thankful they will be serving the homeless and others in need.
Matarese is the head cook at Grace Rescue, 2205 Exchange Ave., and he's been at the mission off and on for about 10 years. And Gary, who is in his mid-30s, is a senior supervisor at the mission and he's been at Grace Rescue since 2010.
Matarese traces his purpose for staying there to Scripture.
“One reason I'm in the kitchen is because while I was in the SAFE (Setting Addicts Free Eternally) program,” Matarese said, “the words from when God was talking to Peter on the shores of Galilee just kind of jumped off the page when He said, ‘Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep.'” he said.
“That's what I do, I feed his sheep.”
Gary, who got clean after arriving at the mission a little more than two years ago, remains there because of fear and faith.
He fears that if he were to leave, and someone were to offer him meth, he'd take them up on it. He has faith that God is at work within the mission.
“This place saved me, and I have no doubt that God is working here,” Gary said. “I'm thankful that I was given a chance here. Whenever I walked through that door, they didn't look at me as the homeless guy, they looked at me as a person.”
Now Gary looks at life through clear blue eyes. His mind is sharp and the hands resting in his lap aren't shaking.
“Meth is a drug that I was addicted to, but I hated it,” he said. “Every time I did it, I knew I had messed up, but I just couldn't stop. After the high wore off, I went a week every time feeling like I'm next to death.”
Now he's thankful not only today but on each of the other 364 days each year for life.
“I feel so much better sober,” he said.
That's why Scott Allen, director of Community Ministries for the Capitol Baptist Association, gave him a job.
Allen, whose responsibilities include serving as director of the Grace Rescue Mission and of Baptist Mission Center, knows the mission's work is not just about getting people to darken the doorway, but about how they are treated after they come in.
Take the Thanksgiving meals, for example.
This will be Allen's 11th at the mission and he's seen blessings play out annually.
One year, a man showed up who had been living outside. He was wet from head to toe and partially covered in mud. More so, he had a strong odor about him.
“He was so far gone mentally from using drugs that it was hard to get through to him,” Allen said. “He needed a meal, and he needed some help. He was welcome here. I sat down with him and when he finished eating, one of the supervisors from the mission and I walked him over to Grace. He took a shower and some guys went to our clothes closet and picked him out some clothes.
“Adult Protective Services came down and I think what ended up happening was that they took him to a crisis center, but at least he didn't have to sleep outside, and he got help.”
Two years ago, a family who had been sleeping in a van came to the Thanksgiving lunch.
They needed blankets and were given at least two each.
“Besides the meal and the blankets, and because we don't house families, we gave them people to contact and agencies to contact that could help them,” Allen said.
Thanksgiving is a sample of the need that Allen, Matarese and Gary witness daily.
Grace Rescue can house up to 110 men on average. That can be expanded to about 140 during bad weather, Allen said.
And Grace Rescue also serves about 300 to 500 meals a day, to men and women. The Baptist Mission Center provides clothing, dental care, eye examinations/glasses and more, he said.
When Allen looks at men such as Matarese and Gary, he focuses not on who they were when they leaned toward thoughts of suicide or using meth, but on two individuals who are helping themselves by caring for others at the mission.
And because of that, Allen said, “I'm thankful for the opportunity to see God's hand move in meeting needs.”