Journey from Homelessness to White Pony Express
Updated: May 27, 2019
By Patty Mitchell
Because White Pony Express works through our many community partner organizations who directly provide food, shelter, and services to vulnerable populations, we don’t often get to hear firsthand the stories of our impact on the lives of individuals and families.
From time to time we are lucky enough to learn, sometimes in the most interesting ways, about how a big difference can be made by the smallest gifts of time and attention.
One such story comes to us from Cliff Strand, one of the Food Rescue Driver-Coordinators. The transformative story of Cliff’s journey from homelessness to White Pony Express is one that has touched many of us.
In his own words:
"I was estranged from my family and living on the streets for several years. My life was most definitely not where it should have been. I was addicted, depressed, and living basically as a gangster to get by day to day.
It was through Brookside Shelter that I first learned about White Pony Express. I think it was about three or four years ago…I honestly don’t even remember, because I was in pretty bad shape back then. I had been kicked out of shelters like Brookside many times…I was living under a bridge. There’s a whole community under the overpass off Fred Jackson Way that people call “The Jungle”.
These nice people used to come by in their cars with crates of food for those of us living under that bridge. One day I asked who was bringing this food and someone from Brookside said – that’s the White Pony. That was the first time I heard about this wonderful organization.
From that awful place, I managed to get myself clean and sober in May of 2016 and to support my sobriety, I was living at a residential program called Restore. That’s the next time I was helped by White Pony Express.
I used to weigh over 420-pounds and looked like a drugged-out Santa. Restore was getting this great fresh food every week from White Pony Express. As a result of changing my life, and having high-quality food every week, I was able to lose weight and get healthy again. That transformation was because I had regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy food that I could not have afforded myself.
Last year my third connection with White Pony was made. I was working part-time as a house manager at Restore and heard about a job opening for a driver for WPE. I asked my manager if I could apply, and he was very supportive saying that things have a way of coming full circle.
He was right. I applied and ended up getting a job at White Pony Express. I am so grateful to be here, and to be a part of the group of people who helped me out when I needed it the most."
Cliff is one of WPE's new full-time driver-coordinators and we’re so happy he’s here on our team. When I spoke with him today about his experience in this new role, making deliveries to our partner organizations, he told me that this position is way more than a job to him. He gets to drive to places where he knows some of the recipients and feels a real connection to the people and places we serve.
"CCIS [Center County Interim Housing Program] was one of the places I was in and out of when I was living on the streets. They always tried to help me, and now I get to bring them food from WPE and help them meet other people's needs. Making deliveries to these place where I have a personal connection like the Salvation Army means the world to me.
I cried three times today on my route…I used to be a gangster and now I’m a bleeding-heart softy! To go from receiving a stranger’s sandwich, to wearing a WPE cap and driving a WPE truck that every day brings help to others is a true blessing for me. I feel very lucky and am grateful to be connected in so many ways to this wonderful organization."
Please consider at gift to support the work we do at White Pony Express. Now through June 16, all gifts are being matched dollar for dollar by 3 Angel donors. Help us continue this life changing work.