Feeding the Spirit - Deb croppedSince she was a little girl, Deb Thackrah knew she wanted to help people in need. Five years ago while running on a trail in Greensburg, PA, she found an unexpected pathway to do it.

”I was with my running partner, Chris, and noticed people were sleeping there. We started carrying five one dollar bills and would stop and put the money under their knapsack.

We talked about it and said wouldn’t it be nice if they had a place one night a week to have a meal where they could gather.”

Doors Open

Deb felt so strongly about the idea that she formed a non-profit, “Feeding the Spirit” to provide meals and crisis intervention services to Greensburg’s most vulnerable populations.

Chris’s pastor at the Otterbein Methodist Church welcomed the chance to serve the weekly meals in the social hall. “At first, 35 people showed up for the dinner, but as word spread, that number quickly multiplied.

We get people from the shelters, elderly from the high rises and people in need of socialization,”

Feeding the Spirit - CarlOn this night, volunteers have come from around the area to serve meals to a packed room of 100 adults and 24 children.

Divinely Orchestrated Chaos

Amidst the rows of tables, there is an exchange of laughter and kindness. It’s an atmosphere that is filled with love and it’s what Deb calls “divinely orchestrated chaos”.

If that is so, then she is the conductor.

Standing amidst a sea of moving people, Deb scans the room for any way she can assist. Two women approach her. One has been helped by Feeding the Spirit when she was homeless. She is with a friend, who had also been homeless once and recently took in a family in need of shelter. The two women are looking for coats for the family. Deb directs them to the table where they will find these donated items.

“It happens all the time. People who have been helped, help others,” she said.

The stream of people walking over to Deb to seek her assistance is constant. “We do what we can,” she said. “None of us imagined it would get this big.”

Life-saving Hope and Help

Since its inception, Feeding the Spirit has served 17,000 meals while offering life-saving hope and help.

Feeding the Spirit food line“We get between 20 and 40 crisis calls a day. Some are from the shelter where they have a two to four week waiting list. A local hotel works with us to provide temporary housing.

A lot of people are in between. They may have lost their jobs or need to get into another apartment. If you don’t have family, or can’t raise the security deposit, where do you go?”

Deb remarked that some landlords have very strict renting rules that allow for a four day visitor’s stay. “Some have been evicted for bringing in family members to live who have fallen on tough times.

There are a lot of families who live in their cars and kids go to school from there. One man was living in a sleeping bag in the woods for ten days. We got him placed into a shelter.”

Working Together

In the winter, it can be especially hard. “People might have an apartment, but no money to pay heating bills. Others who have been in the hospital as a mental health 302 emergency can be released at 10:00 p.m. at night. There isn’t enough temporary housing to transition them. We work with Catholic Charities and other agencies to try to get a more permanent resource.

We take care of co-pays for medicine, provide gift cards for food, cat food or dog food, bus passes and transportation to Children’s Hospital. “

Feeding the Spirit, Deb said, is able to offer this help because of donations from individuals and businesses as well as county grants, through agencies like the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and Catholic Charities.

Volunteers Shine

As the meal is about to be served, it is the volunteers who become the light on this otherwise cold, dark night.

Feeding the Spirit - RickVolunteer and board member Rick Heil sets the tone for the gathering. He does an introduction and his word of the day is “Respect”. He engages the audience to ask what the word means. One person answers, “Caring for each other.” A child asks, “What is respect?”

George C., another regular volunteer, offers humor and the joke of the day and tonight Deb, an ordained minister, does the prayer.

Feeding the Spirit - Volunteer Food Table“When we first started, we were told we’d never get volunteers. But it turns out that we have never had to recruit them. Volunteers come from area businesses, families, service organizations, churches, and college sports teams. They include the guests themselves who pay it forward, asking stores for donations and arranging shuttle service for attendees.

Paying it Forward

Nellie Mickey is one of those volunteers. “It’s like family here,” she said. That’s a word she doesn’t take lightly. Nellie raised 15 children, two Feeding the Spirit - Nellie 2grandchildren and faithfully cared for her husband who had Alzheimer’s before he passed away two years ago.

Feeding the Spirit has helped her financially, socially, and was the conduit for a Westmoreland County Community College two-year scholarship her grandson earned.

Feeding the Spirit - Take Me TableTo pay it forward, the 86 year old grandmother picks up 50 pound bags of donated cat and dog food each week from a local animal shelter to be placed, along with other items on the “Take Me” table at the dinner. Guests are invited to choose one item to take home.

A Leap of Faith

That spirit of giving is more than Deb could have ever dreamed possible that day five years ago on the running trail. She left her job to devote her life to nourishing the body, mind and soul though Feeding the Spirit and providing healing work and private counseling through her  Touch of Grace Healing Center.

“I’m divorced and was putting it off, telling myself that once I get to be a part of a couple again, then I’ll quit my job to do this full time. I realized I was just fooling myself.

I was waiting for someone to come and fix it. I was waiting for the safe way. But I wasn’t living to my full potential. I eventually said, ‘I have to take that leap.’”

“Feeding the Spirit” Works

Deb remarked that it’s the support she has from friends and the community that has made the difference. “Feeding the Spirit works because of so many amazing people. We never had a plan. We don’t take federal or state money. We are doing it out of love in our heart and God’s love.

We connect with people where they are. There isn’t red tape and we don’t judge.

There are a lot of kind people. We go to dinner and people hand us a check. It just comes. On paper it shouldn’t be working, but it does. United Way, Westmoreland Community Action, social services agencies, local businesses, individuals and churches are giving.”

Small Acts of Kindness

For Deb, it all started with a caring hand outreached to those most in need of love.

“You don’t have to do big things. It takes very little acts of kindness to make a difference.

This is who I am. I believe I am doing my soul’s work – living a life of service to others.”

For more information or to find out how you can help Feeding the Spirit, call Deb at 724-757-2533.


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