It may be hard to believe that the area surrounding most of the homeless shelters and The Road Home used to be even sketchier than it is now. The drugs, drinking, homelessness and crime that haunts the non-profit oasis has been established there since Salt Lake City became a town. The ‘Red Dirt District’ on 200 South just south of ‘Greek Town’ between 400-600 West was the locale of the largest and most successful houses of prostitution operated during the 1800’s into the early 20th Century. There were cheap bars that offered beverages to the railroaders and miners, opium dens a few blocks east, and many a prostitute to be bought for carnal pleasures. Basically, all that’s changed in 150 years in the area of the UTA Central Station is some newer buildings and asphalt roads covering the red dirt…and the addition of an angel named Jennie Dudley.
I remember in 1985 when a blue-eyed local cowgirl brought a holy kind of Chuck Wagon to the neighborhood and caused a tiny ripple of goodness. Inside her wagon/trailer are all the fixin’s to cook a Sunday brunch to anyone who wanders by or comes out from the bushes by the Jordan River. Every Sunday and big holiday she pulls up and with the help of volunteers unloads tables, coffee pots, cups, plates, grills and plastic laundry baskets under the freeway ramps at 600 West and 600 South and waits.
With a ranching and outfitting background, Jennie says that she found God and that he could speak to her in ‘Ranch Language’. He said to her: “Jennie, when you have hungry people out back, you send a Chuck Wagon”. “Yes LORD” and she did. She’s an ordained Christian minister and founder of the Eagle Ranch Ministries. I am not a Christian but I believe completely in Jennie’s mission of goodness and have passed on and supported her cause for years. I’m not sure she even knows my name, so why do I do that? She is the living proof of her beliefs and of what good can do and we all need to pay it forward. You see, she doesn’t show up with any food. She prays and trusts that God will arrive with volunteers and food. And they do. I have never listened to her sermons but hear hymns being sung as they are blasted through an amplifier at the hungry lining up to eat. She has never asked me to join her church or told me my ways were wicked. Jennie and her regular crew of fellow believers like Palmer, Marc, Romi and Maxine just smile and thank you. God is NOT letting down Jennie and her mission and no one goes without food, a hug and a smile before they return to the streets – car or no car.
Jennie sets up @ 8:30 on Sundays and is there until 11 or so, and it’s easy to do a drive and drop. On 200 South turn South at 600 West and drive a few blocks south of UTA’s Central Station. There’s no list of what to bring – just use your own logic. The crowd is mostly chronic homeless men without cars who walk to find her kindesses. Jennie says ‘There’s more women and children showing up than I’ve ever seen before!’ They need clothes and blankets this time of year. She’s feeding the masses so bring big cans of ground coffee, creamers, sugar, donuts, pancakes and syrup and margarine. Sandwiches, granola bars, juice boxes, pre-wrapped Twinkies – whatever you can muster. If you bring it, she’ll serve it. If the food has to be cooked, they will cook it but don’t bring a frozen turkey. Ideally, pre-cooked stuff. She can’t make pies and put them in the oven, either.
Every Sunday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. you’ll find Jennie feeding the downtrodden folk of the neighborhood. Go help by doing a drive and drop yourself? There are volunteers standing in the pigeon crap who will help you carry food or clothes from your car. Ask for Jennie and slip her some cash for us, k? She’s lookin’ mighty tired these days but she’s still a great hugger in her big ol’ white cowgirl hat!