Food, Family and Faith: A Recipe for Change

Melvin sits quietly on his bed at the Shepura Men’s Center

Melvin is nothing if not resilient. His first brush with death came at the age of four when he was struck by a car; a collision that put him in a coma for eight months and a semi-coma for another six.

“They told my mom if I lived I was going to be a vegetable,” he said. “But I woke up. God brought me up out of that.”

He’s dodged the shattering windows of drive-by shootings in his neighborhood and he even overcame a stress-induced stroke in his mid-30s.

Though Melvin has survived a series of physical calamities that could easily have taken his life, he still suffers from some lingering side effects brought on by these episodes. The childhood accident has forced him to walk with a pronounced limp for nearly 40 years and he still occasionally experiences numbness in his hand as a result of the stroke’s blow to the right side of his body.

While these violent encounters may not have been able to subdue this survivor, the distress caused by deep personal loss did eventually send Melvin into an emotional spiral.

After his brother lost his life to the bottle, Melvin sought comfort in alcohol, marijuana, and pills with increased vigor and frequency. Within a year, these chemical safe havens mutated into even darker escapes after his mother, who had been suffering from cancer, abruptly passed away in her sleep. Her death fell just three days prior to the one-year anniversary of his brother’s passing.

“That’s when I really, really started drinking,” Melvin emphasized. “I had to have something to drink in the morning and at night. I lost everything. I had thought about suicide before. But I couldn’t do it.”

Melvin’s excessive drinking soon led to countless living complications. Arguments with his girlfriend forced him out of his mother’s house and into the homes friends and extended family. Finally, after spending two weeks in a friend’s the metal hut, Melvin asked his cousin for a ride to the Jimmie Hale Mission.

“The first night I stayed here I heard a familiar voice from the basketball court,” he said. “Then I saw my uncle Kenny. I didn’t know he was here. Now he’s keeping me here, I’m keeping him here. I told him, ‘You my motivation. If you stay and I see you doing it, I’m gonna do it more.’ We doing all three phases together.”

Melvin eats lunch with his uncle Kenny in the dining hall

His dedicated work ethic coupled with this family union has propelled Melvin to more than three months of sobriety. He proudly celebrates the achievement by showcasing medallions representing each 30-days-clean milestone on the nametag lanyard around his neck.

“It’s wonderful here,” he said. “l like not being of a drunken mind. God’s taken the taste for [alcohol] out my mouth. I’m high off of life. I’m clear-minded, sober-minded. I even got my family back. It’s just my sister now, but it’s good.”

Melvin also highlighted the dramatic change he noticed in his physical condition thanks to the food and other provisions offered at the Center. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, he entered the program weighing just 122 pounds. Three months later, he’s hitting 155 on the scale and feeling the positive benefits of the transformation.

“I’m healthier now,” Melvin said. “I’ve got more energy and I’m not as tired.”

Sobriety and the nutritional rebound would easily be proof enough of the change the program has helped usher into Melvin’s life, but the impact doesn’t stop there.

Melvin sits with his Bible

“I had got out of the Bible,” he confessed. “But now I’m back in it like I need to be. I like chapel. I like the singing, the learning, the scriptures. I want to give my life over to God. I want to be one of God’s disciples.”

Melvin spent over 15 years cooking in an industrial kitchen and now finds himself right at home working assigned shifts in the dining hall. It came as no surprise that when asked about his long-term plans, Melvin didn’t miss a beat.

Melvin at work in the Shepura Men’s Center kitchen

“Before I leave this earth, I want to have my own restaurant,” he said confidently. “The doctors said I need to have a hip replacement, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Until then, I’ll just keep on moving. Once I get to moving, I’m hard to stop.”


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Downtown Jimmie Hale Mission, Inc. is a Christian-based, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, which includes a homeless shelter for men, a shelter for women and children, after-school Bible clubs, recovery programs, learning centers, and thrift stores. This charity is often misspelled Jimmy Hale Mission.

Contact us at
Jimmie Hale Mission, P.O. Box 10472, Birmingham, Alabama 35202, (205) 323-5878
Jimmie Hale Mission, Inc.