I met Joseph when I was looking for a volunteer to help recruit some of Durham’s restaurants–restaurants whose patrons are primarily Spanish speaking–to participate in RSVVP (Restaurants Sharing V/5 and V/5 Percent) Day this year. Lloyd Schmeidler, the executive director of Urban Ministries of Durham, suggested Joseph, a resident of the Community Shelter. Lloyd introduced us, and Joseph and I made plans to begin our work after church the following day. I knew there was something special about Joseph when he called me Sunday morning to ask if “business casual” was the appropriate attire. “Business casual” was not a term I thought I’d ever hear coming out of the mouth of a homeless person.

That afternoon I picked Joseph up in my old van, and we began to make our rounds to the restaurants I had targeted. Joseph is an attractive, well-groomed college graduate and Vietnam veteran in his mid-40s. He is quiet, peaceful, and well-spoken, fluent in both English and Spanish. As we drove and walked and drove and walked, I learned about Joseph, and he learned about RSVVP Day.

Five years ago, Joseph was a very successful senior account executive for a Fortune 500 company. He owned homes in several states and closed multimillion-dollar deals on a regular basis. He traveled and cared for his son and daughter. Then Joseph’s cocaine habit took over his life, his family, and his finances. Joseph lost everything. His son lives with his mother in Raleigh, and his daughter lives with her mother in Oregon. Joseph has been living at the Community Shelter while he completes the Hope Recovery program, a program for recovering addicts that, in addition to traditional 12-step values, also focuses on the acceptance of progressive responsibility and peer-counseling. Joseph has been clean and sober for five months and had been looking for a way to give back to the community that had helped him. My request for a Spanish-speaking volunteer came at just the right time for Joseph and his progress within the program; he was just recently advanced to a step in the program that allowed him to be away from the shelter for appropriate activities.

I explained to Joseph that we were recruiting Durham restaurants that would agree to donate 10 percent of their gross proceeds on Tuesday, Nov. 18, to the Durham Community Kitchen. As Joseph knew from personal experience, the kitchen serves three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year–no questions asked. The proceeds from restaurants recruited in Raleigh go to the Food Bank of North Carolina, and those from restaurants in Chapel Hill/Carrboro go to the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service. As all of the administrative costs are paid for by a grant from Central Carolina Bank (CCB), so 100 percent of the donated funds go to these hunger relief agencies.

We were successful. Joseph and I (and other volunteers) recruited 81 restaurants in Durham this year–31 more than last year, and a nice proportion of them serve Spanish-speaking patrons. More than 200 restaurants are participating across the Triangle.

Even as a long-time volunteer for the Durham Community Kitchen and a board member of the Urban Ministries of Durham, I had more preconceptions about the homeless and needy than I realized. In spite of my prejudices, something came out of this that I did not anticipate–Joseph and I became friends.

For a list of participating restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill/Carrboro, see the full-page ad in today’s Independent or go to www.rsvvp.org.