It’s a fine line that separates his Service from his Need

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.”

Seventh Graders Fight to End Poverty

On a class visit to Lazarus House, seventh graders Gauri Kumar and Joeyanna Hodnett developed a brilliant idea. A way to reuse technology to help the Guests of Lazarus House.

Every year, the Pike School seventh-grade class does a food drive. This year, after the food drive the seventh-grade class took a tour of Lazarus House. “It was pretty amazing to visit Lazarus house,” Kumar said. The seventh-grade class had never gone to visit Lazarus House before this trip. “We were walking through the study area and there were kind of old computers there,” said Kumar.

At Pike School, iPads become mandatory in the sixth grade. “I thought about how much technology has helped with learning, and I wanted to get technology to help other people learn too,” Kumar said.

Kumar thought of her sister’s unused iPad at home. “We thought we could do something [with the iPad] and use it,” Hodnett said. From this thought, Hodnett and Kumar developed the idea of Tech for Hope. Taking unused technology, iPads, laptops, computers, etc. and donating them to Lazarus House.

Tech for Hope began taking donations at Pike School. The tech donors follow links given by Tech for Hope and follow instructions to get their technology as if it were brand new, without any customizations. Then Hodnett and Kumar deliver the donated technology to Lazarus House for their Guests.

“Technology opens so many doors for people. You can do a job application and many other things,” Hodnett said. “Technology has opened doors for us. We want to give others the access to open those doors as well,” said Kumar.

Tech for Hope began receiving donations right before the coronavirus pandemic. Due to restrictions, Kumar and Hodnett have been unable to deliver their technology donations to Lazarus House. “We have a few donations but haven’t been able to give them to Lazarus House yet, due to COVID-19,” Hodnett said.

“We would really like to get more donations; so many people need them,” said Hodnett. “The more [donations] we get, the more we can give.” Hodnett and Kumar plan on continuing Tech for Hope in the future. “We don’t want to stop one day. We want it to keep going as long as we can,” said Hodnett.

If you would like more information or would like to donate to Tech for Hope, contact Tech for Hope Faculty Advisor Julie Ogden at jogden@pikeschool.org or Gauri Kumar at kumar.gauri098@gmail.com

Family Uses Organizational Skills in Pandemic to Help Lazarus House

Logan, 13

Many great things come in small packages. The Reuss family of three who recently began volunteering at Lazarus House is one example. Grady-16, Logan-13 and their mother Jen knew Lazarus House for years but made time this year to get involved with volunteering.

“Serving at Lazarus was something we had always talked about,” Jen Reuss said. “We really wanted to work [volunteering] into our life for a really long time. We investigated a lot of different opportunities. Lazarus House is such a part of this community. It seemed like a nice fit and it works great for us,” Jen said.

The Reuss family works on organizational projects that work well with their busy schedule. Jen noted, “Between sports commitments and school activities, our lives can be quite busy. So, this has been a nice way to work [volunteering] into our lives.” The flexibility of the Reuss family projects helps them to take on more.

Jen, Grady and Logan Reuss began working on managing the database for Lazarus House before COVID-19 restrictions began. They continue to work on managing the database in addition to organizing the kitchen, games center and bookshelves through the summer while following Lazarus House COVID-19 safety protocols . “We’re sprucing up the shelter for when it reopens,” Jen said.

The Reuss family cares!

Service is important to the Reuss Family. “It is great to expose my kids to volunteering, especially in their younger years. Service is vital to community success,” Jen said. The Reuss family has had fun working together in service and even sharing in some laughs.

The family of three enjoys volunteering. “It makes my heart happy with the level of respect Lazarus House has for their guests. They really believe in what they do,” said Jen Reuss. “The staff is so lovely. They are really beautiful people, it makes it nice to volunteer,” Reuss said.

The Reuss family encourages volunteering with Lazarus House. “Everyone can do it,” said Logan Reuss.  “They work with what you have and use your talents with what they need,” Jen continued. “Tell them your interests or what you think you can do. Just reach out. They are happy to work with you.” “The opportunities are extensive because the need is extensive.”

In the future, the Reuss family looks forward to fixing all the organizational needs of Lazarus House and expanding into other ways of serving once COVID-19 restrictions loosen. “We have thought about helping out at the food pantry and baking cakes for birthdays.”

Local farms provide fresh produce for Lazarus House guests

People of low income typically do not have easy access to healthier choices. Mark runs a farm in southern New Hampshire, primarily growing corn on 80 acres. In the summertime, what is not sold at the farm stand, is donated to Lazarus House. It is a sizable, fresh and frequent gift that gets distributed to our guests in the Food Pantry, in the Shelter, and in the Soup Kitchen.

Continue reading