Homeless Advocate Has Walked More Than a Mile in Their Shoes
Lynn McPherson (far left) loves making Napoleon desserts, but not the traditional kind with custard cream and white topping. The former pastry chef can whip up a pumpkin mousse Napoleon with a pomegranate caramel sauce, or a lemon verbena shortbread Napoleon with vanilla bean clouds and fresh blackberries.
"Nothing I do is typical, both with my pastries or my life," says the 55-year-old Portland, Ore. resident.
McPherson ran her own pastry business for more than 20 years. But her life changed dramatically after she left an abusive relationship and found herself living in her car with her three children. Eventually a family member helped McPherson move into an apartment and, after getting back on her feet and finding work, she decided she wanted to give back to the community that had helped her through hard times. She began volunteering at local homeless shelters and taking in street kids who needed a place to sleep. But she still wanted to do more.
In 2010, McPherson started Change-for-Life, a project aimed at raising awareness about the plight of the nation's homeless population. She took her mission on the road last year, walking from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Tijuana, Mexico, and asking the people she met to donate money to local homeless shelters.
During her five-month journey, she says she volunteered at 54 shelters and interviewed more than 1,000 homeless people. While living on a food budget of $200 per month (the average food stamp benefit), she slept in the front seat of a minivan (which her traveling companion drove behind her for safety), at rest stops, and on the beach.
Now McPherson, who manages a small apartment complex in Vancouver, Wash., is planning another trek for 2012. "Walking from Canada to Mexico was all well and good, but there are so many homeless out there who need to know that someone has their back," says the grandmother of five.
In an interview with SecondAct.com, McPherson talks about her role as a homeless advocate, what she learned on the road, and her plans for the future.
SA: How did you get your trip off the ground?
LM: It took close to four months to put it together. Most of the hard work went into the trip planning. As far as financial support, this trip was 95 percent self-funded. I didn't have enough in savings to cover the cost, so I actually got rid of everything I owned. Car, apartment, furniture. You name it.
SA: What did you learn from this experience?
LM: Although I had previously been homeless, this trip was so very different. I knew that my self-imposed homelessness would come to an end. But even knowing that, it was still a harsh wake-up call. You never know the importance of little things like a microwave, a refrigerator, even a toilet, until you don't have them. I am very close with my kids and my grandkids, so not being able to stop by whenever I wanted to for a grandchild fix was pretty hard. So learning what is important in life and what isn't was the biggest thing of all.
SA: Do you miss being a pastry chef?
LM: No. I actually get to keep my hand in it once in a while. Of course I am usually the one my family and friends call at birthday and holiday time.
SA: What is your philosophy?
LM: Whatever makes you look forward to tomorrow, that's what you should pursue. If you have a passion for helping others, act on it. It doesn't have to be about the homeless. It can be working with kids, the elderly, animals. It can be painting, sculpting, music. Whatever your passion, there lies your contentment.
SA: What's next for you?
LM: I am in the process of hosting an art auction to raise money for the Portland Rescue Mission. I came up with the idea of local artists taking trash and turning it into a piece of art. The auction will be held in August. In addition to that, I am working on three books. [One of them is] filled with stories from those we have met along the way who find themselves without homes and often without hope. All proceeds from this book will go to the 54 shelters we served at along the way.
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