WASHINGTON, DC — In a quiet corner of the nation's capital Sunday morning, volunteers gathered at the Bread of Life Fourth Street Seventh-Day Adventist Soup Kitchen to do what they do every week: prepare food and distribute it to the city's homeless.
This Sunday, though, each lunch included not only home fries, pancakes, fried onions, eggs, dessert and a bottle of cold water but also a photo of Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, who died July 17.
"Many of them are Washingtonians, so they have a concept of the civil rights movement," said Tijuana Griffin, director of community services at Fourth Street Seventh-Day Adventist. "That's why we put a little flyer in each of their lunches for them to take with them as a reminder of the service he gave to America and the service he gave to the homeless population."
Don Jones, one of the kitchen's clients who dropped by to pick up a lunch, did not know a lot about Lewis.
"I know that he made sure we would eat. That I do know," he said. "I never heard anything bad about him. But, I'm really just picking up on that now when I seen the picture. I'm going to learn something about him."
Rockfeller Twyman, a pianist, organist, and choir director, came out to the soup kitchen Sunday to help honor Lewis' life through song and prayer.
"This is such a great loss," Twyman said. "I don't think people realize what a great loss this is to the nation, because he truly did care about people. He really cared about people like this. He really did help the people in Atlanta, in his district, that were homeless."
Hardui Bennett came with Twyman on Sunday to sing at the soup kitchen in honor Lewis' memory. He grew up nearby in the 100 block of Seton Place in Bloomingdale and benefited from the civil rights movement.
"I came of age in the '60s, if it hadn't been for those people like Martin Luther King and John Lewis and all of those people's collective efforts, then I wouldn't have been able to go to school," he said.
Now a member of D.C.'s Black middle class, Bennett works for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, as a senior administrator in the Behavioral Health and Crisis Services division.
"Those people laid the platform," he said. "After the assassination of Martin Luther King, there were doors that opened in those years for a number of scholarships. For me, I got to go to American University on a Frederick Douglass Scholarship. Some of those resources weren't there, and at least there were a whole lot more dollars that were allocated to promote those programs."
While Lewis was not connected with Fourth Street Seventh-Day Adventist Soup Kitchen in particular, Twyman said it was the type of program that Lewis activity supported as a congressman.
"He always wanted to help people," Twyman said. "This was one of his big projects, helping the homeless. All while he was in Congress, he was constantly advocating for them."
Twyman grew up in Atlanta and worked for a time at the Atlanta University Library with Lillian Miles, Lewis' wife. The couple helped him make contacts and find jobs playing at events around the city, which helped further his music career. When Miles became seriously ill, Twyman performed mini-concerts for her around Atlanta.
"She loved classical music, and both of them were really into the arts," he said. "But he inspired me to get involved in the movement down in Atlanta around 1962, when everything was starting to break. They wouldn't let me go to jail, but I was able to picket and everything. He was just the nicest man, so loving and caring."
Twyman hoped that others would be inspired by how Lewis lived his life.
"He was an important man because he believed in nonviolence. He believed in healing the wounds," said Twyman, who started a petition to nominate Lewis for the Nobel Peace Prize. "He's truly worthy. It's a great example of using your life in a peaceful means to change the world."
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Fourth Street Seventh-Day Adventist Soup Kitchen offered a variety of services to the homeless, including spiritual services, free haircuts, drug addiction counseling, a computer-use class, clothing and hygiene kits.
When the pandemic arrived, the soup kitchen lost a number of its volunteers, many of whom were seniors and concerned about contracting COVID-19, the virus caused by the new coronavirus. Others were not able to access transportation or had contracted COVID-19 themselves and couldn't go out.
"You've got to have a little tenacity to come out during the COVID to serve," said Griffin, who oversees the operations of the soup kitchen. "Many of our clients, we have to remind them to be properly dressed and know what the new laws are."
Clients can no longer come inside for services and instead must pick up meals and hygiene packs at a table outside. Social distancing is maintained, and volunteers distribute face masks to any client who needs one.
The best way for the public to help the Fourth Street Seventh-Day Adventist Soup Kitchen continue its mission to assist the homeless is to donate funds and volunteer. They can do this by sending an email to Griffin.
"If people really want to remember John Lewis ... one of the greatest ways to remember him is to support this kitchen," Twyman said.
Also see ...