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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Mary Louise Long and her husband, Ron, briefly say hello on a short break from working at an event providing lunch and clothing for the homeless in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Rescue Mission of Salt Lake serves 400 to 500 meals a day to the homeless. But when corporate supporter Subway Restaurants brought lunch for 1,000 to Pioneer Park on Thursday, the event was more than just a meal.

And for Mary Louise Long and her husband, Ron, the lunch in the park was part of a rescued life that was once in ruin.

Chris Croswhite, the mission's executive director, said events like Thursday's lunch help individuals who are homeless become more comfortable with the mission and its programs.

"Most of them have been hurt by society, so there isn't a lot of trust," he said. "Our goal is to build relationships with our homeless friends so they will join our inpatient recovery program and get off the streets."

The mission currently has 54 people in its New Life program, where participants spend 13 months overcoming addictions, getting more education and work therapy, and then applying for jobs and transitioning into a more productive, stable life.

The lunch also provides important psychological support for people who, day to day, walk past downtown restaurants and know they can't go in because they have no money.

"They could come to the mission and get a meal, but to get a Subway sandwich gives them the same thing you and I could have, and that's important," Croswhite said. "So today they get something we take for granted."

Subway also gave the mission $10,000, which will keep a mission van on the road this year. The van is used both to pick up donated food and drive mission participants to appointments, like job interviews.

Ron Long was using the van to shuttle people to Pioneer Park for the lunch. Mary Louise Long was helping distribute donated clothes at the park.

The husband and wife live in a studio apartment at the mission's women's facility, where Mary is the house manager. Ron is not a mission employee but makes himself available to help out, Mary said.

The couple's experience with the mission has come full circle.

Years ago, Mary's use of prescription drugs for migraines turned into a problem with addiction. The couple separated in 1990, and trouble became part of daily life for both of them. "I lost two houses. It was my fault because of what I was doing," she said.

"My life was basically in the toilet," Mary said. "I was working in an a hotel as a maid. A man came after me with a pipe, and now half of my face is made of plastic and metal screws." Scars also run the length of her right forearm.

Later she got a bed at the same women's facility where she now works. "I got my GED. I've been clean now for six years."

Ron was released from jail to the mission, where he also worked through the inpatient recovery program. He and Mary reconnected. Two years ago, they renewed their wedding vows.

"This is the perfect job for me because I know where these ladies have been. I can love these ladies," Mary said of her job at the women's facility.

Croswhite said the mission and other service providers for the homeless would not exist without private donations and corporate sponsorships, and that the mission's objective is to offer a hand up instead of just a handout.

"The best way to help the homeless is to partner with one of the homeless providers," he said.

Email: sfidel@desnews.com

Twitter: SteveFidel