Serving Those Who Have Served

Mar. 16, 2015

A photograph of Serving Those Who Have Served

Home-cooked meals are part of the healing process for homeless veterans

Melvin Williams and Michael Daniels know their way around a kitchen.

Both built their culinary skills during their years in the military, and these days they prepare meals for fellow veterans who face a different battle.

The two men work at Alpha Omega Veterans Services in Memphis, where six separate residences provide homes to homeless veterans.

Alpha Omega feeds, shelters and counsels men and women who have proudly served our country as they overcome the addictions or traumas that led them to live on the street.

Williams and Daniels feed 122 residents three times a day, with food donated from the Mid-South Food Bank, in partnership with Fresh Market.

Williams has been overseeing the kitchen at Alpha Omega for more than a decade.

Both men know just how much those home-cooked meals mean to the people they are feeding because they have been there – and are graduates of the program themselves.

“Life became unmanageable for me,” says Daniels. “I was sleeping on the streets or staying at the Union Mission when someone told me about Alpha Omega. They took me in, and I did the 12-step program. I had tried and failed before, but this time I did the work. I understood more clearly that I had to do this for me.”

Alpha Omega opened 28 years ago, about the same time that the Food Bank did, and the two organizations immediately connected.

In the past few years, the Food Bank partnered with the Fresh Market grocery store to provide fresh produce, meats and other ingredients for the residences. And while food is just one part of what veterans are offered at Alpha Omega, it takes care of a fundamental need.

“I’ll sit down and talk to the guys about what meals they would like,” says Williams, who has been overseeing the kitchen for nearly 11 years. “With the ingredients that we get from the Food Bank and Fresh Market, I can accommodate them. I get a thrill to fix the foods that make these guys happy.”

Meals at the residences are tailored to each person. Some have diabetes, some have religious dietary needs, and some just don’t care for certain foods or spices. They get what they need and what they want.

Melvin Williams, director Cordell Walker and Michael Daniels work together to keep everyone fed and happy.

Someone who’s been there

Today Daniels proudly shares that he is married and has a three-bedroom house. He started working with Williams in the kitchen six years ago. His is a typical success story.

Of Alpha Omega’s 36 employees, 33 are graduates of the program.

That fact speaks to new residents.

“Clients are looking for themselves when they interact with our employees,” says Cordell Walker, director of Alpha Omega. “A lot of them knew each other in the outside world. Some may have served together. So there is that camaraderie, that ‘semper fi’ that lays a foundation for growth as soon as they walk in the door. We are a family, and Michael and Melvin are a key piece of that, not only because of their skills, but because they have graduated from the program.”

To learn more about people who serve the homeless in Tennessee, read about Welcome Home, Chattanooga.

Photos by Steve Jones.