Eric Webster says he would not presume to know the life circumstances that bring guests to Lazarus House for help with food, shelter or clothing, but it is certain that very few of our volunteers share his life story of knowing first-hand the support that is offered.
Webster, 49, one of six children, remembers “growing up in rough Lawrence neighborhoods,” relying on food pantries, and at one point in his childhood, turning to the Lazarus House shelter. “We had to move into a shelter because we had been evicted,” said Webster. “I felt sad that I was living in a shelter, but I knew we were out of the cold. I knew they would help us.” During that time Eric was forced to quit high school at 16, a special needs student and a victim of bullies, though few who meet him would ever know its impact and how precarious and challenging his life has been.
He tells of year after year when he and his family were continually one step away from losing their housing, but a quiet modesty leads him to tell of a difficult life story with a refreshingly upbeat attitude. In fact, nearing middle age, he is able to live on his own for just the second time, and he was laid off from security work when a plant closed last Thanksgiving Eve.
“Losing that job put a lot of pressure on him,” said Ken Campbell, who runs the Lazarus House Food Pantry and stills helps him with food and necessities. “However, he always seems positive and does not focus on limitations.”
Webster has been volunteering at Lazarus House, which he calls “my second family,” for 23 years in the food pantry, thrift shop and shelter. Because he continues to receive assistance, one quickly realizes just how fine the line is that separates him from those who wait for weekly food distribution.
“As a child, I went to a food pantry with my mother,” said Webster. “I don’t know what our guests are feeling. I don’t know what they are thinking, but I know what I was thinking. I was fairly embarrassed – so I smile, say hello and try to make our guests feel welcome.”
When he sees people on the streets who are hungry, he tells them about the Lazarus House Soup Kitchen. When meets those needing food, he tells them about the food pantry.
“He is very well-liked and respected around the city,” said Campbell.
While others might want to try to turn the page after what he humbly downplays as “my struggles,” he says he feels a debt to Lazarus House that keeps him coming back week after week.
“I like being here. I like giving back,” he said. “It’s the people. Our guests, the volunteers, but mostly our guests. It’s their smiles.”