No institution or government agency sponsored the event, no advertising heralded it, and yet dozens of volunteers showed up beneath the 400 South viaduct Sunday - as they do every Sunday - to give.
"And they end up receiving," says Jennie Dudley, who started the "Sunday chuckwagon" for the homeless six years ago with a pot of coffee and a conviction that people care about each other.From that modest and optimistic beginning, Dudley's chuckwagon has grown into the largest unofficial charitable operation in Utah. As many as 800 homeless and hungry people gather at the viaduct each Sunday, and there always seems to be enough food and kindness to go around.
No taxes are levied. No contributions are solicited. No one is enlisted to help. No one organizes the meal or plans a menu. No one notifies the homeless that breakfast is served. It just happens, every Sunday under a freeway viaduct at 400 South and 400 West, and Dudley doesn't seem at all surprised.
"I go there without any food or people, and they (volunteers) all come spontaneously," she explained. "I go trusting in the Lord that he will send people, and they show up. It always works out."
Before 7 a.m., in spite of (or because of) the wintry weather, a small army of regular and irregular volunteers begins to arrive in cars, vans and trucks. They include entire families, schoolchildren, college students, church groups, businesspeople, professionals and others who, according to Dudley, want to contribute time, food and hope to those in need.
Portable stoves are fired up. Soon, tables are laden with steaming trays of food and beverages. Crates of fruits and vegetables are unloaded. On this particular Sunday, there was a choice of meats, salads, sweet rolls, egg dishes, potatoes, coffee, juice and much more. Dudley described it as "the sort of Sunday brunch you might get at the Hilton."
However, at the viaduct, the guests are transients from nearby Pioneer Park, individuals and families from the homeless shelters - an increasing number of children - and anyone else in need. No questions are asked.
In addition to the food, some people bring warm clothes. Many Sundays, a doctor stops by to treat minor ailments and injuries. A group of college students often shuttles legal questions and answers between the homeless and the experts at the University of Utah. Some Sundays, a hairdresser gives haircuts to those who want one.
"Some people bring things and don't stay; others stay and serve the food themselves. They all bring something of themselves," Dudley said. "They give what they can."
The number of volunteers and the amount of contributions increase during the winter months, especially around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
"People think about how cold it is outside," Dudley said. "They think about how they would feel without a home or food."
She attributes the continuing success of the chuckwagon partly to its lack of organization. "A lot of people have suggested that we become better organized, but it's working. We get people from all kinds of churches, all nationalities, all kinds of financial status, young and old. It gives them all an opportunity to help without planning it for months."
The reason for helping those in need is clear, she said, relating a recent experience she had with a family that had just moved from the homeless shelter into an unfurnished house:
"It was late at night when we delivered beds for the children, and we found them lying on the floor waiting for us. When you see what I see - the little children - you understand. Whatever we do for them gives them hope."
The people who give at the viaduct receive that understanding in return, she said. "They realize that they make a difference."
Dudley's efforts do not end on Sunday. The rest of the week, she operates the Eagle Ranch, 3340 S. 7549 West, Magna, a charitable enterprise that offers food, clothing and other kinds of assistance to the poor. She encourages anyone needing help to contact her at 250-4070.