Feeding hopes and hunger and the Union Gospel Mission

TRI CITIES -- They are often the ones struggling to find their next meal. But KEPR found the residents at the Union Gospel Mission in the Tri Cities, are eating like kings.

And it's all thanks to the generosity of local restaurants.

Tuesdays at the Mission have become known as "Olive Garden Day." The Kennewick restaurant is just one of several in the area that donates food to the Mission every single week.

General Manager Stephen Carroll says, "Once we know a food is going to be donated, we put it right into the freezer. Food safety is paramount to us. We want to make sure the food that goes out to them, is the same quality as the food that we serve at our tables to our guests here."

It's a partnership that's been in place for about 8 years, helping serve up nearly 250 meals a day to those who need it most.

Mission Food Services Director Jerry Jones knows firsthand how much these meals mean to residents at the mission -- Mostly because he used to be one of them.

"I was a meth addict, showed up at the Mission, strung out, and just wondering what to do with my life.

That was eight years ago. He's since gotten clean, graduated out of the Mission, and put himself to work, paying it forward.

And the efforts couldn't be more appreciated by the residents.

Ruben Ochoa says, "Lobster, lasagna, shrimp -- You wouldn't think you could come to the mission and have those things. But I love it."

And Jones knows it means there is one less challenge for the residents to face in their path to recovery.

"You'd be amazed at just how much of your brain is focused on your stomach when you haven't eaten in a while. It really does interfere with being able to accomplish anything else."

It's why he also knows he's feeding not only the mouths, but the hopes, of everyone at the mission.

KEPR also learned donations come in from countless other stores, restaurants, and bakeries around town. In all, the mission receives nearly 1-and-a-half tons of donated food from the community every week.