Willamette University, Students at the Mill Stream

Willamette students unite to feed breakfasts to Salem's homeless

Willamette students spent a recent Saturday morning making a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs for the homeless.Willamette students spent a recent Saturday morning making a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs for the homeless.

Asked why she makes breakfasts for the homeless, Megan Newcomb ’14 says Asked why she makes breakfasts for the homeless, Megan Newcomb ’14 says "I’ve learned that I really enjoy giving back. I want volunteering to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.”

As a college student, Scotty Ferguson ’13 is used to getting advice. But some of the most meaningful has come from the homeless people he’s served.

“One guy told me that life is a boxing match. You have to dodge the hit or take it and keep going,” Ferguson says. “Talking to these guys definitely puts things in perspective. I could be homeless. You could be homeless. It could happen to anyone.”

Through Bearcats Offering Others Meals (BOOM), Ferguson and nearly 200 other Willamette University students have taken to heart the university’s motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

They do this by preparing breakfasts of eggs, bacon and pancakes for residents of the Salvation Army’s Lighthouse Shelter in Northeast Salem. Since BOOM’s inception in the early ’90s, Willamette students have served in excess of 10,000 meals to people staying there.

“I build my life around charity and philanthropy,” says Ferguson, an environmental science major. “Taking action is how I make a difference.”

Giving Back

As BOOM leaders, Ferguson and Megan Newcomb ’14 organize excursions to the shelter each semester. They begin by sending out a mass email to members of their list serve, and within minutes, several students volunteer to participate.

On a recent Saturday morning, six of these students awoke before dawn to make a mass breakfast for the homeless. While listening to classic rock and chatting about their coursework, they scrambled 300 eggs, mixed 10 pounds of pancake mix with water and cooked more than 280 strips of bacon.

BOOM pays for the meals with funds issued by the student government. For each of its 10 yearly service trips, it has $85 to spend on food for 60 people.

“Serving people who are underprivileged reminds me how lucky I am,” says Newcomb, the club’s president. “It reminds me of the obligations I have and ways I can help the community.”

Newcomb joined BOOM as a freshman and has remained committed to the club ever since. Hoping to attract new leadership, she says the club gives students an opportunity to help those in need.

“When I volunteer here, I feel happy, fulfilled and appreciative,” says Newcomb, a chemistry and biology major. “I’ve learned that I really enjoy giving back. I want volunteering to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.”

Understanding homelessness

Having lived at the shelter for six and four months respectively, 37-year-old Nathaniel and 26-year-old Phillip say they appreciate the Willamette students’ food and companionship.

Nathaniel is counting down the days until he can move out of the shelter and into his new house. The Los Angeles native is working at a Christmas tree farm and is enrolled at Chemeketa Community College, where he will train to become a welder.

Phillip, too, is getting his life back on track. His days revolve around working at Oil Can Henry’s and being a role model for his 11-month-old son, Andrew. For him, waking up on a weekend to the smell of bacon was a welcome surprise. 

“This is amazing. It means a lot,” Phillip says about the breakfast. “Not only have they made us food, they are out here, eating with us and chatting with us, and that’s cool.”

In the future, Newcomb hopes to increase the number of yearly service trips and collaborate with other campus organizations to serve dinners to the homeless. Ferguson, meanwhile, wants to spur even more students to join the club.

“There is such a great need here in Salem,” Ferguson says. “A lot of the time, people don’t understand homelessness. But by being here, by serving them breakfast, you realize that that person standing on the street corner asking for money could just as easily be you.”