On this day when we pause to focus on food and family citizens stepped up all over New Jersey to serve those who have neither. An estimated million New Jersey neighbors survive each day living at subsistence level. But today a cornucopia of donations in food and service and sacrifice poured in. Correspondent Brenda Flanagan reports from Eva’s Village, which on Thanksgiving Day and every day provides help for their guests still Chasing the Dream.
“Finally, one day, I decided enough is enough. I’m 41 years old. I haven’t had a job in years and I wanted to get help,” Harry Kane said.
Kane’s in the residential recovery program at Eva’s Village — a significant step up from his prior address, which was somewhere under a bridge with other homeless folks, he says.
“I woke up every morning, asking myself, ‘how can I keep doing this?’ And one morning I just had enough and I couldn’t take more. I had sort of an epiphany.” he said. “I was actually living right down the street. I was living beneath the bridge on Grand Street, unfortunately.”
As Eva’s prepared for its annual Thanksgiving feast featuring savory meals served by volunteers to the hungry and homeless, Harry described his personal miracle.
“I was on the street one day. Two days later I was in detox and then a week after that I was actually in here,” said Kane.
“Luckily I have a place to go to in Eva’s, which I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s helped save my life,” John Pintak said.
Like Harry, Pintak’s also been through detox and lives in Eva’s recovery program. The former hotel/restaurant manager volunteers in the kitchen and especially wanted to be here for Thanksgiving when people come in from Paterson’s streets.
“I’m just thankful I’m here. The people who are going to come in here today, I mean, they say for the grace of God, there go I? And that in my case couldn’t be any truer,” Pintak said.
John’s wrestling a cocaine addiction which cost him his home and his family.
“I was home in Keyport, NJ just kind of wasting a good part of my life doing drugs and whatnot. I finally decided I needed to get help. I reached out and I never thought I’d be in Paterson, but it’s a great place and it has really the best recovery in the state. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “A lot of the things that you lost you probably never get back. But at least if I can get some sanity back in my life. The rest of my life I can have a relatively normal existence.”
John and Harry are among 173 clients in Eva’s residential substance abuse program. It’s got 160 people enrolled in outpatient programs. Counselors help clients beat back addictions and find jobs. Harry found a good one at a pharmaceutical company warehouse.
“I’m so happy I got it! It’s like a dream job, I couldn’t believe I actually landed it,” he said. What does he do? “I work in a warehouse. Pretty much whatever the labs want to order, I pack up the supplies and the drivers come and pick it up and everything and we ship it out.”
“And so that’s a perfect example of how we reached out using the community. We got him into a detox. We got him into our treatment program. We helped him find employment, and we’ll help him with an aftercare program when he leaves here, and we’ll have ongoing support through our recovery community center,” said Mike Santillo.
Santillo runs Integrated Care Services at Eva’s Village. He’s front and center, welcoming dinner guests at the soup kitchen that usually serves 350 people a day. He claims success stories like Mike and Harry’s are a lot more common that people realize.
“That’s what people don’t see. People hear about addiction, and they hear about the negative side of addiction: people losing their jobs, people being homeless. That’s obviously part of the disease. But what people don’t hear about is how people recover. And the message that I always try to get out is people do recover from this disease to live long, productive lives,” Santillo said.
Every Thanksgiving, several politicians volunteer to serve meals here. Mike lobbies for more aid.
“That’s probably one of the biggest problems is the lack of resources — particularly housing for sober people, sober housing and education and employment services,” said Santillo.
“Housing, which is so in demand, it is actually more economical as a society to provide housing for people that are in crisis than to leave them on the street where they rack up much more cost to taxpayers in our jails and in our emergency rooms and more,” Sen. Cory Booker said. “So this is actually a fiscally prudent thing to do, but convincing this new administration of that, I don’t know how it’s going to be.”
“I always say that a budget is a reflection of our values as a nation. And whether we value changing the lives of people and giving them an opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential, whether we help people in the shadows come into the light, whether we break an addiction, those are all parts of our values,” Sen. Bob Menendez said.
Both senators say they suspect prying loose additional resources could prove difficult, but that comprehensive programs like these offer people afflicted by addiction the best shot at redemption.
“This is a wonderful place for people like me who are trying to get their lives back together,” Pintak said.
So how long did it take Kane to turn around his life from living under a bridge to having this great job?
“It was actually pretty quick, as long as you want it. In only four and a half months I turned my life around,” he said, “I know! I surprised myself, too.”
By day’s end, Eva’s Village will have served Thanksgiving meals to some 400 people. But not Harry Kane. He got a day pass from the recovery program to spend Thanksgiving Day with his family for the first time in six years.