James Foresteire made good money trading diamonds. He had money, cars and a nice home.
"I wanted for nothing," he says.
But after a family tragedy, he soothed his pain with drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he lost everything.
"I ended up on a friend’s couch with 50 cents in my pocket, too afraid to spend it," Foresteire says.
James Macklin tells of a life of searching for excitement that his successful business didn’t provide.
"I began to smoke that crack cocaine," he says. "Boy, I tell you. That was the beginning of my end."
Though Foresteire and Macklin came from very different cultures, they fell victim to the same addictions. But for both of them, the end turned out to be another beginning.
They found redemption at the same place on New York’s Lower East Side: the Bowery Mission Chapel.
Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Bowery Mission Chapel has changed little in the last century. Hymn-singing, a sermon and a free meal provide food for the body and nourishment for the soul.
"It really started out as a prayer movement on Wall Street," says Pastor Reggie Stutzman, who works full time at the Mission and gives several sermons a week at the chapel. "A hundred years later, their work through prayer and seeking God … we’re still doing it."
The Bowery Mission always has been about practical needs. The kitchen has been a buzz of activity all week preparing for the annual Thanksgiving onslaught.
Extra volunteers helped slice and dice yams, turkey and all the trimmings to support the professionals who’ve come to do the heavy lifting. The non-profit organization Mercy Chefs arrived with two large vans to cook and distribute food to satellite locations.
Chef Debbie Lowe jokes about the volunteers working on a production line, as the heavenly scents of home cooking waft through the hallways.
"Working here is really hard,” she says. “We're smelling Thanksgiving for seven days!!"
But there is even greater need this year. City Harvest, a New York City food rescue organization, reported a 15 percent rise in demand for services and soup kitchens from a year ago. There will be more men and women, and probably more families, lining up for a Thanksgiving meal.
Last year, the Bowery Mission served about 3,000 Thanksgiving dinners. But Macklin, now the organization's director of outreach, believes that number will more than double this year.
"The expectation is closer to 8,000," he said.
Not all the people the Bowery serves will be a success story like Macklin — or like Foresteire, who used his managerial skills to create an in-kind donation program for the Bowery.
"My mother is more proud of me now then when I was making a lot of money," beams Foresteire.
There are no guarantees that the sermons or the programs will turn lives around, Stutzman says. The Bowery Mission Chapel’s aim is to provide a firm enough foundation to bear whatever burdens walk through its doors.
"We're here to just love on people," says Stutzman. "Share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Feed, clothe them and tell them there's a better way to live then the way you're living now. Some take it, some don't."