It was the winter of 2008. Though below freezing and often snowing, Robert Janousek made his home in the alleyways of Alexandria. If he couldn't find a ride, he often braved the weather to walk to his job at Walmart — sometimes walking as much as 10 miles roundtrip.
It wasn't until Janousek crossed paths with Pastor Rick Martin that he found a home. Martin allowed Janousek to seek shelter in the Alexandria First Free Methodist Church. For the next six years, Janousek called the church home.
Now, Janousek lives at the Alexandria Senior Center and has made it his mission to give back and carry the message of God. One way he does so is by participating in the weekly soup kitchen at Common Ground Coffee House.
"There's something here that hits my heart and from here I can take it out in the community and help others who are struggling," he said.
According to coffee house owner Bill Jarvi, the idea for the soup kitchen took shape as he was reading a book by Francis Chan, a Christian author.
"It was really about taking care of those who need help," Jarvi said. "We're a blessed community...that's the church's place to do that (help others). The Lord lead my heart to do something like this."
Each Tuesday night at 5:30 p.m., Common Ground opens its doors to anyone in the community who would like warm soup and bread, free of charge. The weekly gathering also serves as a form of fellowship, according to attendees.
"It's like I'm a part of something, when I'm here," Janousek said. "I want to give back to that."
The soup kitchen also serves as a night off from preparing dinner and instead focus on enjoying the company of others.
"After a long day, when you don't have to worry about supper and can just chill, yeah. We're in," said Crystal McKay of Alexandria. "This is a fantastic place, coffee or soup or whatever. Bill is amazing, his staff is amazing. It's a great atmosphere with good vibes."
That atmosphere is exactly what Jarvi set out to create when opening Common Ground.
"There are a lot of people out there who have no friends, who don't know how to talk (to others) or just have had struggles in life where it would be good for them to get around other people and share life," Jarvi said.
The soup kitchen has also given people the opportunity to get to know others better. Before coming to the coffee house, Theresa Reed had crossed paths with another woman in town but they had never been particularly fond of one another. That changed one Tuesday night.
"It was our first time sitting here talking one-on-one," Reed said. "We connected here. Bill (Jarvi) thought we were good friends. We told him our story and said this was our first time chatting."
Now, Reed and her friend make the effort to meet at the coffee house every Tuesday night.
Jarvi says his eyes have also been opened to the fact that everyone who comes through the doors has a story to tell, and that serving soup and providing a welcoming atmosphere helps those stories come to the surface.
"Even though I didn't think that way at first, that's really what the soup house is for," he said. "I just want people to get fed, either physically or emotionally."