Is That Baby Hungry?

Finding Hope at Bread and Life


Willie Johnson first met our family at St. John’s Bread and Life 26 years ago. His life was not so simple then. His challenges with substance abuse earlier in his life forced him to make some poor decisions. These poor decisions had negative effects on his family. The late Sister Bernadette, founder of Bread and Life, had a huge effect on his life since the day she asked Willie “Is that baby hungry?” Read about how St. John’s Bread and Life changed Willie’s life forever.

Bread and Life: So first, where did you grow up? Tell me about the young… younger Willie Johnson?

W.J.: Well I grew up in North Carolina, with my mother, my stepfather, five sisters and brothers, me being the oldest.  You know… me being the oldest, I had to be responsible, my mother worked and my stepfather worked. So, I had to be mature… I learned. My mother taught me so much, the point is that the things that she taught me sustains me today. I am able to do things, most men don’t do.  You know. I do all types of cleaning, and it has been a blessing to me. You know, yes it has.

Bread and Life:  How did you connect to St. John’s Bread and Life.

W.J.: Oh that’s a wonderful story, sometimes it makes me cry when I tell it and the tears come down. I just finished, you won’t believe I just finished telling it to my drug counselor across the street who helped me really get clean. So now, it just so happens, this was in the 80’s. I had a two year old daughter; I have eight children, this is the child that caused me to be connected to St. John’s Bread and Life.   We got on the WIC program and they started to give us Similac and pampers.  In the WIC program, they would send us to a particular place, to pick up free milk, all kinds of milk and stuff for the baby. Mine was on Throop Avenue… Throop and Madison, the health station. They would send me there to pick up a case of Similac for my daughter, for my two year old.  I got the case a couple of times and I brought it home. But I got the case a couple of times and I sold it, because I was strung out on crack cocaine. So I would sell the case of Similac a couple of times, to get a couple of jacks of crack.

One day, I picked up a case of Similac, and sold it for some crack.  I went home high and empty handed. As I walked in, I could hear my two year daughter tell her mother “Mommy, I’m hungry”. At that particular time, you know after me selling the Similac, after me taking the hit and I’m uh… the junk is in my system and its affecting my mind to where, not really do I care, but I heard what she said.   I picked her up on my arms and she started to cry because she was hungry.  I took her for a walk to try to calm her down.  We were living on Throop Avenue on Hart street, 281 Throop Avenue.  We went down Willoughby, towards Lewis Avenue.  As I got to the corner of Lewis Avenue, I could see the big church, St. John the Baptist.  This day, people were lined up on the walkway. I got curious and I wanted to know why people were in line.  I found out they had opened a Soup Kitchen.   I could see that it was a blessing from God, for me to go in a direction that I didn’t even know where I was going.  I looked up and saw Sister Bernadette, you know, first time I ever seen her.  She looked over on the ramp and saw me with the baby on my arms. She said “mister is that baby hungry?” Listen how those things took come together, how they connected.  She said is that baby hungry? I said yes ma’am. She said bring her down here to me.  She took the baby out of my arms and sat her down on the table, the edge of the table where people were eating bowls of soup.  She took a bowl of soup and started feeding my two year old. That was my first connection to St. John’s Bread and Life. You know, that was a beginning… Sister Bernadette, God rest and bless her sweet soul, boy, wonderful person,  an angel.  Today that two year old is twenty-eight years old.  That means that I’ve been coming to Bread and Life for twenty-six years.

Bread and Life: And so which Bread and Life programs that you take advantage of? So you say, you did the soup kitchen, on the first day, what else did you….

W.J.: Well later, I learned about the thrift shop, I’m a guy who likes to be fresh and clean. It’s a part of me. I’m embarrassed or I’m ashamed, I’m uncomfortable if I’m not that in any place other than home. You know, so I took advantage of the soup kitchen on a regular, me and my daughter two year old would come back there on a daily basis, almost every day, for three or four years even if she started to get six or seven years old. The thrift shop, I would… now I’m able to get over there and get a couple of things that I really like, you know, a nice suit, and be able to go to church because at the time I was searching, I needed some help. I needed help; I needed God in my life. And I was raised in the church down south but, how that story goes, the prodigal son, like you come up, they raise you up in a certain way and you stray away from that, but because you were raised in that, you don’t stray away too far. That’s who I am, you know... I was brought up in a church so I was always looking and talking to God even in my deepest negativity, I was looking for him to save me. You know, and I guess it’s my faith and my look into him to be saved is the reason I’m here today.

Bread and Life: What advice would you give to someone who is in similar situation that you were in back then.

W.J.: Oh, I know exactly what to tell them… Joy or pain, that is what the end results is. I don’t care what are you doing, the end results is either one or the other.  Are you happy about it or are you sad? You got paid or you didn’t.  Because of my experience and my belief on God almighty Jesus Christ, I experience 95% joy these days my brother.   The little bit of pain once in a while that I experience is because I deviated, I detoured.  Now, what I would tell anybody, what would I say to any individual, black, white, Jewish, Chinese, I don’t care who you are, find almighty God Jehovah and Jesus Christ. That is how I’m saved, that is how I’m free to go and come today.   It’s like what the bible says, when I read it. Your cup, my cup is overflowing as David and the psalms. You know all this I was raised up in the church but I got away from that when the crack that took me away, away from that.  With his good grace and mercy, he brought me back to him. To where, to what I know, to what I… to them milk that fed me, that raised me up, you know, that’s it.

Bread and Life: That’s really good.

W.J.: I’m telling everybody my brother, trust in God almighty, you know, I don’t know what the Chinese call them, I don’t know what Buddha, or how they… in Hinduism or you know, I don’t know how they call him. But I call him almighty God Jehovah and Jesus Christ and the more I call on that name, the better my situation gets.