If you were sitting across the table from Abdoul today, you would be struck be his radiant smile and his effortless warmth. He would beam when he told you about his work and he’d be eager to invite you into his story. Several years back, Abdoul was a daily meal guest at Shepherd’s Table in the midst of the most difficult era of his life. Reflecting on it now, he shares, “Everything happens for a reason.”
As the son of diplomats, he came to the U.S. when his family immigrated from French Guiana and made a home in Pennsylvania. After relocating to Maryland, Abdoul fell into hard times and found himself living on the streets of the DC area, battling both loss and sickness. He heard of the daily meals available at Shepherd’s Table and immediately took advantage of the opportunity. Once inside the doors of Progress Place, the county-owned site where Shepherd’s Table conducts services, Abdoul was able to utilize additional resources like our clothes closet and resource center.
Reflecting on the experience, he shares, “No matter how low you get, you need to feed and clothe yourself to give you the strength to keep going.” For Abdoul, ambition comes naturally and he relentlessly chooses positivity. But like many of our clients, Abdoul recognizes that when your basic needs are not met, it’s difficult to think critically about what an ideal, healthy life could look like. At a time in his life when he was hungry, ambition and positivity were not enough. In his own words, “An empty stomach doesn’t think right.” By meeting immediate needs for Abdoul, our programs afforded him the opportunity to think about his hopes and dreams in a safe environment.
Relationally, Abdoul found acceptance and love in the Shepherd’s Table community. As an aspiring chef, Abdoul clicked with Chef Keith and found inspiration and solidarity in his friendship. Chef Keith would frequently stop and chat with Abdoul, intentionally taking time to encourage him every day during breakfast. Christina Moore, Director of Special Programs, and longtime volunteer Carlos Botts also befriended him and believed in his dreams. Their support was an encouragement to Abdoul as he dreamed of meaningful work where he could utilize his skills. He formerly attended cooking school and loves the problem-solving that happens in the kitchen, and relishes the search for the perfect texture, the perfect taste. He knew what he wanted and with the support of community, was determined to seek it out.
The journey has not been without its obstacles: after finding work at a restaurant in Bethesda, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the organization. Undeterred, Abdoul found work at a local Giant store before landing a job in the George Washington University Hospital cafeteria. Working in the hospital cafeteria is rewarding, combining his interests in the culinary arts and serving others. “I love helping people,” he shares, “that’s my calling.” He feels a deep empathy for his patients and understands the intimacy of serving food to those facing serious illness. With steady work, he is able to live in an apartment in Glenmont that he shares with a roommate, a friend he met through a partner of Shepherd’s Table, Interfaith Works. Abdoul is even able to send money back home to loved ones struggling to make ends meet in French Guiana.
At Shepherd’s Table, our goal is to empower self-sufficiency so that our clients are equipped to independently live healthy, fulfilling lives. When someone is hungry and unsure where they’ll sleep that night, it’s impossible to progress along the pathway to self-sufficiency. By removing these obstacles and providing a community of love and support, clients are able to pursue their goals. For Abdoul, this has made all the difference.