Local man leads volunteer operation to feed homeless

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published July 14, 2015

 Jeremiah Chappelle and Char Lloyd make ham and cheese sandwiches for the homeless in Detroit.

Jeremiah Chappelle and Char Lloyd make ham and cheese sandwiches for the homeless in Detroit.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

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FRASER — From the ages of 11 to 17, Jeremiah Chappelle became unnaturally acclimated to being homeless.

His existence was one that is still felt by many, sleeping in the basement of the abandoned Michigan Central Station and diving into trash cans for the slim chance that some scraps of food would be left for him to devour.

Years later, Chappelle has found solace in giving back to the poor and the underprivileged, the sickly and the elderly.

The entire endeavor is part of a greater cause called Everybody Matters, which invokes the good nature of humanity with the longing to provide a sense of hope for those at the bottom.

The mission is simple: Help someone who needs it more than you.

Thanks to the recent help of Fraser residents, food items are packed and delivered to the homeless every night. Chappelle himself drives his car to Detroit, straps on two backpacks, gets on his bike and rides around 35 miles per night, doling out meals to help save lives.

Along with a bike club called Long Distance Riders, he ends his nights at the Genesis House as part of the Detroit Rescue Mission. As more people get involved, the route grows and more individuals are found in nooks and crannies that weren’t previously noticed.

The homeless have been coming out of the woodwork for food. And if it wasn’t for donations, he said, those people probably wouldn’t eat.

“My goal is to open up my own shelter (in Detroit),” Chappelle said. “That’s what my ultimate goal is. I feel like that’s what my calling is. If it kills me, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Everybody Matters has gained traction through social media and word-of-mouth, going from a one-man venture led by Chappelle to a multi-person operation chock-full of volunteers.

Now, in the middle of the afternoon on a random Thursday at Fraser Star Lanes, double-digit numbers of volunteers put on their latex gloves and pack ham and bologna sandwiches for hundreds of homeless people in Detroit.

“These (Fraser residents) are amazing,” Chappelle said, a Fraser resident himself now. “The generosity and the spirit of the people in Fraser has seriously got me blown back. I changed worlds, not towns. It’s mind-boggling, and these people are amazing.

“You ever meet somebody and right away know, I’m going to be friends with this person for a long time? That’s just the vibe I get from these people.”

For someone who for a long time had to beg, borrow and steal just to survive, Chappelle understands that the struggle is real — almost too real for many others to comprehend.

“Everyone thinks that the people on the street, that they’re alcoholics or drug addicts. That’s maybe 5 percent of the people I deal with.”

He attributes root causes of homelessness to mental illness and those with terminal diseases and no monetary funds. These are babies, children and adults who seemingly have no way out of their own situations.

Now there’s a food source that is combined with unmatched generosity from strangers. From those donating bread, cheese, lunch meat, chicken dinners and bottled water, Chappelle aims to continue the operation every week.

On Tuesday, July 7, the group of volunteers made 150 bologna and cheese sandwiches. On Thursday, July 9, the bowling alley looked like an assembly line as 300 sandwiches made their way from the bag to the backpack.

As long as the homeless remain without a primary food source, Fraser residents aim to continue to fill that void. It’s the least they can do, said volunteer and active Fraser resident Katrina Irwin.

“(It’s) karma, I guess,” Irwin said. “They say it comes back tenfold. The feeling you get when you’re helping somebody is unbelievable. The more hands we have, the more people we can help. And who doesn’t want to help someone else?

“We encourage for other communities to join and help. It doesn’t just have to stop in the city of Fraser. We can help so many people. There’s only so many people in a 4-mile radius, so the more people we can get, the better.”

You can see the passion in Chappelle’s eyes when he talks about why he does what he does. His generosity, and that of all the volunteers, is evident in their work ethic.

Chappelle owns his own business, yet still devotes his evenings to trekking through Detroit on two wheels, seeing old and new faces in a journey that has become synonymous with pain, heartbreak and a glimmer of hope.

These people are that glimmer of hope.

“There’s a lady named Sadie that lives on the corner of Washington and Michigan,” he said. “She just had her 70th birthday two weeks ago. She’s riddled with cancer. She’s not a drug addict, she’s not a drunk, she’s got no habits at all except for the most contagious smile you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Chappelle wonders what goes through the minds of people who go to ball games downtown or stop into the casino to play poker. He doesn’t understand why people pretend it’s not a problem that people are going hungry, that they are dying in front of everyone else.

One day, he was finishing his normal route and walked into the Genesis House. He received a standing ovation, all because everyone knew he was the person who was delivering their nourishment. Some even helped him unload the sandwiches.

“I’d rather help the homeless than go to a nice dinner with my girl,” he said. “I feel guilty if I don’t go out. I can’t sleep. It keeps me up knowing that I didn’t help people.”

To donate to the cause, visit www.gofundme.com/yp39rk.

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