Thursday , November 23, 2017 - 5:00 AM
OGDEN — This year, Jim Hampton will help serve a Thanksgiving meal at the Ogden Rescue Mission. But only a short time ago, he was the one in need of rescue.
“I was alone. I was driving. I was coming across Texas,” Hampton, 59, says of his Thanksgiving two years ago while working as an Alabama truck driver. “I ate at a truck stop.”
He says he doesn’t remember ever feeling quite so empty as he did that night.
“The holidays are when you miss your family the most,” he says.
Now with a new sense of purpose and belonging, Hampton is providing Thanksgiving help to others.
As the kitchen manager at Ogden Rescue Mission, his work this season has included assisting with two Thanksgiving dinners and handing out the ingredients for home-cooked meals to those in need.
“You know you are helping someone who wouldn’t have anything if you didn’t do it,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling. It’s the same every night when you hand someone a plate of food. They look at you and smile. You can’t put it into words. It’s just an awesome feeling.”
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ANGER AND GRACE
Hampton heard about the Rescue Mission from a Bible-reading man, whom he met at 2:30 a.m. in April 2016 at Ogden’s Flying J Travel Plaza.
He recalled telling the man he was dumb for reading the Bible. At the time, the truck driver was struggling with anger and grief.
“I didn’t physically harm anybody, but I wasn’t the nicest person to be around either,” he says. “A lot of times, your mouth could be worse than a punch.”
Hampton says he developed a bad attitude when he lost his parents and wife of 21 years, all within a few months.
“My wife was my best friend. She was my everything,” Hampton says.
Instead of hurling an insult back at Hampton, the man saw his need and encouraged him to check into the Ogden Rescue Mission’s New Life Residential Rehabilitation Program to address his emotions.
The program is designed to help people get clean and sober but the voluntary, controlled, merit-based program also lends itself to helping those like Hampton, who don’t have substance abuse issues, work through their emotions, says Mission Director Judy Doud.
The few dozen residents in the program are tasked with tending to the 100 or so homeless and poor who visit the mission daily for hot meals or overnight shelter. Participants also are required to attend daily Bible study and worship services.
Hampton took the man’s advice but left a month into the program. He was in Kansas when says he ran into the same Bible-reading man. Again, the man suggested he get help at the mission, Hampton said.
“I couldn’t take one month and now I can’t leave,” Hampton says. “We give these people who are struggling so much — a good, hot meal.”
THANKSGIVING EVERY DAY
Others have noted Hampton’s growth.
“He went all the way from a sense of hopelessness to having courage and hope, knowing he can do the same for others,” said Larry McGruder, pastor at Wasatch Cowboy Church. McGruder’s church is where Hampton now worships.
“People come to him and unburden themselves,” McGruder says. “He’s never intrusive but always aware of others’ pain.”
McGruder said Hampton became interested in the church after the pastor admitted he couldn’t save him.
“I can’t even save myself,” McGruder recalls saying to Hampton. “Why do you think I could save you? I can tell you about someone who can,” he said, referring to Jesus Christ.
A fellow worshipper at McGruder’s church, Loura Flick, says she’s come to see Hampton as “just a genuinely nice person” who helps people unload weekly potluck items from their cars.
Flick admires his transition.
“He was going through a hard time when we met a year and a half ago,” Flick says.
Hampton struggled as he gave up a lucrative job, Flick says. His improvement didn’t happen overnight.
“It just got better and better until he was offered that kitchen manager position,” Flick says.
Thanksgiving now comes every day, Hampton says, as he sees how his life has changed and he has the opportunity to help others.
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“I couldn’t do what these people do — live out on the street,” he says. “At least we give them a little bit of peace during the day.”
Hampton says through generous and timely donations from the community, he’s come to see God’s hand at the mission.
“We have stood right here and prayed over this counter for things we needed,” he says. “They usually show up quickly.”
Mission workers say they’ve come to rely on Hampton’s efforts.
“The kitchen is the heart of the mission,” says Jason Stewart, office manager at the mission. “It takes somebody with a lot of passion to run this kitchen. Jim’s got that.”
David Christian, also an Alabama native who lost his wife, entered the New Life program in April.
Now calling himself Hampton’s “left-hand man” in the kitchen, Christian says he likes following Hampton’s “do anything for anybody” attitude.
“Jim has taught me a lot,” Christian says, naming chicken, casserole and soup recipes. “Everything I can think of,” he adds, including how to be a “people person.”
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