Canteen Run out to spread love, food to those in need

Canteen Run out to spread love, food to those in need

Words begin to catch in Jimmie Dorris' throat as he stands in front of an old, retired ambulance across the street from the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign, rain misting down.

Two and a half years ago, he hit bottom. The Canteen Run, which gives out clothing, food and hygienic materials out of the back of that old ambulance, helped him recover.

"I had a downfall, and I ended up on the streets, and these people here at the (Canteen Run), the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, a person told me about them, (that they would) help you out," he says. "It was very beautiful."

The items he received from the truck were necessary to his comfort and survival.

But that wasn't his biggest takeaway from his interactions with the Canteen Run. It was the social connections he built during his trips to the truck.

"You need love," Dorris says. "That's No. 1. Because love brings you things that you need to have. ... A lot of people talk about you, and they'll put you down, and I didn't know that they had places like this that would help you come back up."

And that normal human interaction isn't ancillary. It's a core part of what founders Dan and Barb Davis have decided their mission is.

"We've had a number of people over the years say, 'We don't come to the truck for food,'" says Dan Davies, who isn't currently going out on runs as he recovers from back surgery.

"'We come because you treat us like one of you guys.' And our goal is to share the love. We want to reach out to these people, we want to help them."

After volunteers pack the ambulance full of goods to give away, Jason Fisher pulls it out of its garage at Country Fair Storage in Champaign on this frigid Tuesday evening.

At Salvation Army, they pick up peanut butter sandwiches left for them, along with a few more volunteers: Allen Parrish, a veteran of many Canteen Run trips, and David Stephenson and his young daughter, Leah, who are going out for the first time.

Just like it does every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the ambulance makes three regular stops — across the street from the MTD terminal downtown, at a location on campus on Green Street and outside the Urbana Free Library, each of which is a common place for the local homeless to be in the evenings, with other stops mixed in.

During Tuesday's drizzle, the line that usually waits for the truck at the terminal is non-existent, so Stoltz heads into the terminal to let people know that the truck has arrived.

"This is a big help because they bring this to the community," says Daniel Hunt, a regular who walks up to the truck around 10 minutes after Dorris and his friend, Ernest Thompson. "The community doesn't have to go to them."

After parking just north of Green Street on campus, Stoltz once again walks around looking for regulars, but they're not in their usual spots in doorway alcoves or outside the McDonald's. She figures they have gone to the shelters, so the truck moves on to Urbana.

After Stoltz goes into the library to look for regulars, she comes out with Clint Smith, a 69-year-old man whose beard is as weathered as the fur that lines the hood of his jacket, which he found in a dumpster.

"Before I started coming to the truck, basically I stayed with the rest of my family," says Smith, who has been homeless for around five years. "But the rest of my family don't want nothing to do with me anymore."

The volunteers also dole out drinks and items to John Irvin, who gives items to homeless people that the Canteen Run might not be able to reach. One man, he says, drags a wagon around his neighborhood. Irvin began leaving bagged lunches outside for him. In the morning, those lunches are gone.

Because they have plenty of extra sandwiches and other items, the truck makes one last stop at the C-U at Home Phoenix Drop-in Center, which doubles as a men's homeless shelter during the winter. The longest line of the night congregates around the truck before Stoltz drops off the last of the sandwiches inside the shelter.

On this night, most people who come to the truck are polite and thankful, and only one man becomes belligerent.

For that one evening, the truck has fulfilled its purpose.

With their forays into the community, the Davies know they're not solving the blight of homelessness in Champaign. More is needed, they know — like mental health and addiction recovery services that aren't offered in Champaign. All too often, people like the Davies have to drive people to other central Illinois towns to receive those services.

But the help that they're able to provide is sorely needed.

"A lot of people accuse us of enabling them or just trying to be do-gooders," Dan Davies says. "But what do you do with them? How can you turn your back on somebody who's in need."

For people like Dorris, that sentiment is greatly appreciated.

"They always treat me right," he says, holding back tears. "They're good people."

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