SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The homeless may not be the most visible group in the Ozarks. We don't see them stand on many street corners or camp behind buildings. Although they may not be noticed, there are still many in need.
Two friends, inspired to help the homeless, decided to put together a holiday lunch for the less fortunate. Allen Shevey and Jason Hill recruited friends and family members to cook and serve food for over 350 people in need. For the many hungry, Sunday's was the first hot meal they had in weeks.
"A lot of people in Springfield, I don't think, realize that there is a need," said Hill. "There are really a lot of people that need some help and I think that it's obvious today. You've got people lined up all the way down the block."
Kids ran in the ally behind the Missouri Hotel while hungry parents filled plates with smoked pork, hamburgers, and cookies. Some never imagined they would be in need of a strangers help.
"I'm used to always having a home and a car. It's kind of humbling," explained Joey, who lives with his wife at the Missouri Hotel. "I didn't think I would actually be here."
Joey ran karaoke for seven years in downtown Springfield. When his luck turned around, he had to sell his equipment and move into the hotel.
His story is familiar on the streets of Springfield.
"It doesn't discriminate. We're all one paycheck away from being somewhere we don't want to be. It doesn't matter what type of person you are, it doesn't matter what type of education you have," Aaron Hughes, the system support operations staff member at the Missouri Hotel detailed. "One wrong decision, or even someone else's bad decision, can hurt yourself or hurt someone else."
The Missouri Hotel has a fluctuating list of people desperate to check in. As of Sunday, over 200 people have requested rooms with the shelter.
"If you could give people a good meal, get some clothes for them, if nothing else, it makes their day a little bit better and then it inspires other people to do the same thing," said Hill.
Volunteers young and old helped to give out food, candy, and donated cold weather gear, such as hats, gloves, and scarves. Even a sleeping bag or two was available.
"It's a good thing to help people and just nice," said 11-year-old Coleman Shevey.
"It's very nice to help people," agreed his 9-year-old brother Boone.
Although it's the season to share, homelessness is a problem all year.
"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas they give more. But you know, I guess it's seasonal, and that's fine," said Rodger Bay, who sleeps in a sleeping bag on the west side of Springfield. "It would be nice if it were year round. But like I said, I'm grateful man. I love them all."
Smiles, hugs, and tears were shed by the many that were helped by the kindness of strangers. Organizers hope to make Sunday's lunch an annual event.
"Just thank you to everybody that supports all the causes at the hotel and the homeless," reiterated Joey. "Thank you."
All food, clothes, and other supplies are needed at the Missouri Hotel, Salvation Army, Victory Mission, and other homeless outreach centers across the Ozarks. If you can't spare the money, the organizations will gladly accept volunteers.