Howard Hawkins said he was working as a banker in Richmond, Va., when his wife died of heart and lung complications in 2007.
He said the loss caused him to suffer an emotional collapse.
“I didn’t respond well,” Hawkins said. “Material things didn’t mean much to me. I gave up my cars, house and money. I gave it to the church and became homeless.”
On Thursday, Hawkins told his story to about 280 people who gathered to share a free Thanksgiving meal sponsored by The Hope Center Rescue Mission off North Prospect Street in Hagerstown.
Hawkins said that after his mother died last year in Clear Spring, he moved into the Hope Center to turn his life around. The support and spiritual guidance, he said, worked wonders.
No longer homeless, Hawkins spends his time volunteering at the mission.
He said he does everything from running the front desk to helping at the organization’s thrift store.
“I didn’t feel like life was worthwhile,” Hawkins said of his existence before he came to the mission. “Now, I see God working through me ... It’s a way of giving back and feeling thankful.”
Sonny Shank, executive director of the Hope Center, said volunteers prepared enough food to serve 300 people on Thursday.
“We want to share God’s blessing with the community,” Shank said. “We want to thank (God) for what he’s done for us for the past year.”
Shank said the all-male shelter helps about 500 men each year. Those who stay the night also get a shower and a free meal.
In addition to Thursday’s dinner, which included turkey and other Thanksgiving standards, organizers set up an area for children while the adults participated in spiritual services, said Adrian Black, director of Wildside Youth Ministries, an organization associated with the Hope Center.
“This is a Thanksgiving feast, but we open up our other rooms to let kids come in and just play,” he said.
Many of the older children shot pool, while the younger ones played Battleship and made picture frames in a crafts class.
“It’s real fun. We get to eat and play,” 11-year old Hagerstown resident Jason Perez said.
Black said that although the event was open to the public, many of the people who attended lived in shelters or were from low-income families.