One of Daja Scroggs’ most vivid memories from her days of hunger and homelessness involved a trashcan and a hamburger. Wandering the streets of Anchorage, she spotted a foam to-go box, perched atop an overflowing pile of garbage.
The former Valley resident, who struggles with drug addiction and a personality disorder, did a double take.
“I stopped, and looked inside and there was a perfectly untouched burger and fries, still warm,” said Scroggs. “I picked it up, carried it with me, found a place to sit and enjoyed every bite.”
For Scroggs, those desperate days are a thing of the past. Scroggs has been able to get her life back on track with the help of the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center. Now she has a wide grin and open, affable personality. She is taking medication to help with her mental health issues. She is staying away from drugs and alcohol. Most important: She has a job and a home.
In 2016, Providence Health & Services Alaska made a total of $40,000 in donations to the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center to help it eradicate homelessness. The Soup Kitchen’s mission mirrors that of Providence’s – to serve the poor and vulnerable – and the money is making a tremendous difference.
Executive director Sherrie Laurie said $25,000 has allowed the shelter to provide beds for up to 50 guests a night, and the original $15,000 helped launch the Soup Kitchen’s work readiness training program – the Feed Me Hope Bakery and Culinary School.
“That money from Providence was truly a godsend,” Laurie said. “In all honesty, there were some times I thought I wouldn’t be able to make payroll. Now we can make a difference every single day.”
Scroggs is living proof of such a difference.
“I was married. I had a life,” she said. “Then on Feb. 16, 2010, we had an apartment fire and we lost everything. We bounced around places, lived in motels, lived in our car. It just went downhill from there.”
Scroggs said the stress of the loss, paired with her mental health problems and slow slide into drug use, eventually put her on the streets. She lived in a camp in the woods, slept outside in the dead of winter and struggled each day to find enough food to eat. She’d hit rock bottom on the rainy, cold day she walked into the Downtown Soup Kitchen, where she met Laurie for the first time.
“She was a mess,” Laurie said. “She was soaked through and emotional. There was something about her that made me stop and pause.”
“She happened to be the first female staff member I saw,” Scroggs said of Laurie. “At that time I wasn’t in living mode, I was in survival mode. (Laurie) let me wash my clothes and get cleaned up. That was the biggest gift to be given on that day.”
From there, a relationship blossomed, Laurie said. With Providence’s donation, the Soup Kitchen was just launching its Feed Me Hope Bakery program, which teaches homeless women baking skills that can translate into a profession, thus getting them off the streets and living self-sufficiently. Scroggs was the first student.
“I decided I wanted to be happy again,” said Scroggs, who now works part time for the bakery.
“I learned about my disorders and learned how to get my life back.”
Laurie said Providence continues to support the Soup Kitchen’s work. It has 10 female student bakers who live on-site full time and a free culinary vocational school for homeless people, both male and female. Graduates of the program earn their food safety and sanitation cards and are assisted in job placement. In the end, Laurie said, the goal is to lift those who are struggling, such as Scroggs, to a better place.
“I’ve found my home,” Scroggs said. “I’m right here and I’m making ground. Now I live life.”