Robert Stover, Program Manager for CHD’s Not Bread Alone, is a practical man. As a matter of routine, he focuses on logistical concerns of preparing good food and serving satisfying meals to anyone who is hungry, three times a week. But he also embodies qualities of a caregiver, and sometimes the care he and his staff provide for guests takes on added urgency.
“If we are Not Bread Alone,” Stover asked, “then what else are we, in addition to bread?” As it turns out, one answer to that question is “life savers.”
For decades, a man we’ll call “Gary” has been a regular guest at Not Bread Alone, CHD’s community meals program at First Congregational Church in Amherst. “I’m under the impression that he has been living outside for decades,” said Stover. “He’s a big, burly guy with a bushy mustache and he dresses for the cold. He carries his life on his back in a huge, bulging backpack that is always with him. He may have a friend with an apartment where he can crash occasionally, but he’s usually outside.”
One day recently, it helped that Stover knew something about Gary. “I got the sensation that he wasn’t really eating much,” Stover recalled. “I noticed he was going back and forth to what I presumed was the bathroom. Well, somebody came to me and said, ‘Bob, we have to call an ambulance, Gary has passed out!’ While someone went for a phone, I went to Gary. He was conscious but not well. I asked if it was OK to call him an ambulance and he said it was. I dialed 911 and explained the situation, that his breathing was labored and he was pale and in pain.”
A police officer arrived first and an ambulance crew soon after. Gary was placed onto a stretcher and transported to the hospital. A couple days later, Stover received an email from a colleague at another local meals program where Gary regularly goes. She hadn’t seen Gary for days and was concerned. Stover explained what happened and his colleague followed up with local hospitals. “He’s at Baystate now,” she replied. “Sounding tired but OK. Ruptured aortic aneurysm. You saved his life.”
CHD’s motto is Positively Life Changing, but in this case it was Positively Life SAVING! If Gary hadn’t gone to Not Bread Alone for a meal that afternoon, he may well have ended up dying alone. But as this story is published, Gary is recovering from open-heart surgery and at a nursing home for rest and rehabilitation.
“Most people who come for a meal at Not Bread Alone worry about scarcity,” said Stover. “It just overrules any other thoughts. So I try to convince our guests that they aren’t receiving charity. They are not objects of pity, but fellow human beings. They deserve food that is good. They deserve to be here enjoying a satisfying meal. We’re glad it’s available and we’re glad they’re here.”