- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In 1995, Bonnie McDonald was a 34-year-old lost soul adrift in a sea of addiction. “I was co-dependent on men. Many of them were drug dealers,” she reflects. She says she spiraled so far down in life with drugs and alcohol abuse that she became a neglectful parent to her four children, who eventually had to be put into foster care.

Without a job and family support, she agreed to visit an organization she knew little about, So Others Might Eat, known as SOME.

A neighbor had told her the center provided hot meals and support for people who needed a helping hand. She was still in denial, she says, but the SOME receptionist made her face the harsh reality of her situation.

“I never will forget the staff saying, ‘We hope you will come back when you are ready,’ ” she says. “I did not think I needed to come back for anything. I was just there to check it out. I thought, ‘They must really think I need help. I must really be in bad shape.’ ”

Ms. McDonald agreed to enter SOME’s rehabilitation program. Several months later, she was sober and drug-free and had landed a job working at the center.

Fast-forward to today, and Ms. McDonald is a year away from getting a bachelor’s degree in social work from Catholic University and is the director of SOME’s Harvest House for Women, where she guides those experiencing similar struggles with addiction and dependency.

Despite her professional accomplishments, Ms. McDonald says, she’s most proud that she has been reunited with her children and is stable and responsible enough to baby-sit her three grandchildren.

SOME may be known for the meals it provides to the hungry, but the organization, which marks its 40th anniversary this year, is more about the compassion and self-reliance it feeds to create success stories like Ms. McDonald‘s.

“The most important thing we do is move people off the streets and help them become independent,” explains the Rev. John Adams, the president of SOME, who has been with the interfaith organization for 31 years.

Father Adams says that thanks to “God’s providence” and the “generosity” of private donations, SOME has grown over the past four decades into a multifaceted mecca of kindness, providing not just meals and rehabilitation support, but housing, job training and medical and dental assistance to thousands.

To celebrate how far it has come and the number of people it has touched, SOME will hold an anniversary concert at 7:30 tonight at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the Beatitude Mass for the Homeless will be performed by the Georgetown Chorale, directed by its composer, Henry Mollicone.

“We started out serving about 60 meals a day,” Father Adams says. “Now we serve about 800 to 900.”

From its headquarters on O Street Northwest, which previously housed an animal shelter, SOME serves breakfast and lunch to people from all walks of life, who, in most cases, “are just looking for affordable housing or a job,” Father Adams says.

At a recent day’s lunch serving, Tony Smith, a program manager for SOME, said, “Most of the people who come through are those who have to choose between paying their rent and getting something to eat.”

He explained that SOME strives to put healthy meals on its tables in a clean and cheerful dining room at its headquarters. Fried foods are avoided, fruit is included with breakfast and a vegetable is served at lunch.

Meals at SOME are provided by churches, synagogues, companies and other organizations that donate the food and volunteer the time to prepare and serve the meal to SOME clients.

Linda Parisi, SOME’s development director, says that because of the troubled economic climate, the center has served “an additional 30,000 meals over the past year, and we expect that trend to continue.”

Ms. Parisi explains that nearly 60 percent of SOME’s $16 million annual operating budget comes from private donations and the remaining funds come through federal grants and foundations.

In addition to serving more meals, SOME also would like to expand its ability to provide affordable housing in the Greater Washington area. Ms. Parisi says SOME operates 314 housing units but would like to increase that number to 1,000 “over the next few years.”

“We currently have five buildings that we will develop over the next several years and will get us closer to our goal, but beyond that, if there is no funding from the city, we and other nonprofit affordable-housing providers will be at a standstill.”

Brenda Jones is grateful to have places like SOME during hard times. Ms. Jones comes in most days for breakfast and lunch and has received SOME’s medical assistance for her rare heart condition.

She says after many years working as a secretary, she suffered a stroke and has been unable to work because of her illness and her dependence on an oxygen tank to breathe.

“I have a daughter, but she’s taking care of herself,” she says. “I don’t want to ask her for help.”

Ms. Parisi and other SOME officials acknowledge that fundraising has dried up, but they vow that their calling to help the downtrodden will not wane.

“This place is full of angels,” Ms. Jones says reverently.

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