Heart of Our City: Giving back to their street friends one meal at a time

Karlene Campbell and Marvin Spencer feed the homeless every Sunday

On Sundays it is especially hard for those living on the streets to find a meal in Prince Rupert.

The two kitchens are closed and during the summer the lunch menu at Annunciation church cannot be accessed because it is also closed, according to Marvin Spencer, 37.

“They are not fortunate enough to find a meal on this Sunday. We know this because we both came from the streets and here we are bound in alcohol and drugs. Two years ago we were exactly where they are,” Spencer said talking about his fiancé Karlene Campbell, 34, and himself.

Campbell and Spencer have been feeding the homeless, who they refer to as their street friends, for 12 weeks in a row. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. Campbell and Spencer prepare burgers, cupcakes and other foods which have been donated by community members.

At around noon the barbecue begins in the back of their house, where their street friends are greeted with a smile and a song played on Spencer’s guitar.

READ MORE: LETTER: No empathy for Prince Rupert’s homeless

Spencer begins to sing a religious hymn. One would never be able to guess it is only his second year playing the guitar.

“I take it as a passion of mine to sing praises and to worship God. That’s why we do this here today. Our barbecue is a ministry that we share with the people to let them know that it isn’t the end. This isn’t the means to an end. To let them see us in our life where we found our saving grace gives them an understanding that you know there is a way out,” Spencer said.

Marvin Spencer plays some tunes and sings for his street friends as he and his financee prepare a barbecue lunch for them. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Spencer found himself struggling with alcoholism years ago when a tragic accident occured involving his kids.

“I went through a downward spiral that started alcohol. I was grieving a lot and alcoholism set-in for three years. I kind of just drank my sorrows away.”

After finding his way to sobreity in Terrace, Spencer came back to Rupert. He found himself still living on the street but this time he understood that he had to look out for his wellbeing, he said.

Preparations for the barbecue begin at 10:30 a.m., with food being served by noon. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

At this point the conversation with Spencer was interrupted as a community member, whom he has never met before, dropped by to hand Campbell $20. She immediately left with her kids and mother to head to the store, returning 10 minutes later with more snacks and beverages for her street friends.

Campbell had been an addict for nine years. She went through several different treatment centres and Alcoholics Anonymous groups, but nothing helped.

Karlene Campbell and Marvin met while living on the streets.(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Campbell was lost in addiction and eventually ended up on the street for the better part of a year, she said. That is where she met Spencer.

“We had no place to go, we slept on the streets and all these people behind us helped us make sure we were safe and ate. They kept us warm if we had no place to sleep,” Campbell said.

READ AND WATCH MORE: Homeless shelter opens with 25 beds

Slowly the couple started going to Compassion Explosion church and decided to dedicate their life to God. Campbell said religion was the only thing that staved off the cravings.

For the past year and a half the pair has been sober. Campbell now has full-time custody of her nine-year-old daughter and Spencer has shared custody of his own kids. The couple has a little one on the way and have found themselves full-time employment. Campbell has been working at the Emergency Weather Shelter full-time for the past six months and her finace is beginning a work program with Pembina in construction.

“We’re just trying to pay back by making sure our friends eat,” she said. “Any little thing helps; a smile, a hug and just an acknowledgement.”

Karlene Campbell and Marvin Spencer feed about 40-50 street friends every Sunday. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View))

Every Sunday she and Spencer feed 40-50 people. Campbell and Spencer have been receiving donations from the community who have seen their story on Campbell’s Facebook page. The couple plans to feed their street friends for as long as they can.

“We really enjoy having all our friends come. These are people that we don’t turn our backs to because they looked out for us,” Spencer concluded before going back to play on his guitar.

READ MORE: MVP of the Week: Runner ready for his biggest challenge yet

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: From pen-and-paper to senses and relationships


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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