Most of the people who came to Naftzger Park downtown on Saturday morning walked – some barefoot – to get a meal.
The asphalt was heating up, but it didn’t stop more than 100 homeless people and others in need from grabbing a hotdog or hamburger from the One Spark Foundation, which organizes events to feed the hungry the third Saturday of every month.
“The No. 1 thing that we try to do is to feed their stomach and feed their hearts,” said Dave Hill, One Spark CEO, who could be spotted in his signature smiley-face T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Free Hugs.”
“Before they get to the food, they’ll get four or five hugs. … Most of them say, ‘You aren’t getting a hug from me,’ and then they’re waiting for the hug. When we started this, nobody wanted to get a hug. My rule is to get my food you’ve got to hug me.”
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Paul Adkins, who was a truck driver for 22 years but is now living in the Mission homeless shelter, said he likes the hugs.
“No matter what kind of feeling you’re having when you go into this, you’ve always got a smile on your face afterward,” Adkins said. “When I do get back on my feet I hope I can volunteer.”
Catherine Bragg has been to One Spark events before. This time, she brought four of her grandchildren, who range from 5 to 9 years old, to the park. They were anxious for lunch, running around in the shade of the trees before lining up for food.
“I think it’s nice. He’s giving back to other people. Not too many people do that,” she said.
In previous years, the group served food at Heritage Park, but the space has been closed off for renovations.
For now, Hill said they have a permit to do events in Naftzger Park, but he said the permit expires at the end of the year.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ve asked the city, they have an old fire station that we’ve asked them to donate to us. It’s right behind the work release center. It’s just used for storage now. We could probably feed 700 meals a day out of there.”
A building would help especially when the weather is extremely hot or cold, he said.
Last year, One Spark received about $20,000 in donations for food. The rest of it is donated from Superior Home Services.
One Spark has more than 250,000 Facebook fans and has expanded over the years to include projects like Tipsy Taxi for safely transporting people who have had too much to drink; Covers for Cancer, which donated 83,000 blankets last year; Boxes of Love for those in the military; Rescue Wagon to help those with broken-down vehicles; and School Sparks, which encourages kindness and no bullying in schools.
“I call it a spark because it ignites something in your heart when I’m kind to you,” Hill said. “We’ve never had an incident. Some of the other places that feed have armed security. We don’t have any of that. We’re all about being kind.”
TO GIVE OR GET HELP
To contact One Spark or to donate, call 316-945-3051 or visit www.facebook.com/onesparkcanstartafire.