PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “I have the pleasure of helping people in the community get food,” says John Clifford, a chef who works as the food services coordinator at City Team Ministries. The nonprofit provides food, clothing and recovery services for individuals residing in and around the City of Chester. Clifford is thriving in the position. He raised money, $600,000 in food donations and supervised the service of 89,000 meals and 17,000 bags of produce last year.
But Clifford was once a recipient of the services that he now helps to provide.
“I walked the same paths our guests are walking,” he says, “I was a loser, I was a nobody, I was headed for death.”
Clifford spent 10 years in the grips of addiction. He has overdosed on drugs and spent time in prison. But the father recalls the day he hit rock bottom– when his drug needle stabbed a police officer and he was sent to prison for aggravated assault. He says March 7, 2007 was the day his life began to move in the right direction; it was the day he found City Team Ministries.
“I was radically loved when I came in here,” he says, “they didn’t treat me like a junkie when I came here– they treated me like a dad, a business man– and that love is contagious.”
Clifford says he got saved while in prison and that helped him at City Team, which brought in mentors to help him work through some of the issues that lead to his drug addiction.
“It was about rebuilding me spiritually and emotionally,” he says.
The trained chef spent 53 months in a recovery at City Team. The program provides services, as well as transitional and emergency housing for men. They assess each person’s individual talents and skills and helps them build a plan for a new life. After leaving the program, Clifford interned for City Team and was soon hired to start his own mission– to feed those in need.
“I was told– you are responsible for this,” he says, noting that he had to raise the money for the food services, including enough for his own salary.
Clifford’s story is what sells his mission.
“I can’t underestimate the power of one,” he says, “somebody reached out to me and we reach out to others.”
The pride and joy for Clifford is “Hope Cafe,” a white linen restaurant for the homeless that City Team offers on Saturdays. Guests get a real dining experience with linen tablecloths, waiters, multiple courses, etc.
“Love gets people’s attention- going above and beyond gets people’s attention,” he says.
Clifford changed his life and now, he’s changing the game for others– one meal at a time.
“I can’t believe it– things like this don’t happen to people like me,” he says, “I feel like I’ve been given a second chance on life and I am forever grateful.”