Jerry Gill is not the type of man you’d expect to have served 40 years in prison. Now in his mid-60s, Jerry has large, gentle eyes, and his short hair shares the same salt-and-pepper seasoning that President Obama developed in his last years in office, nature’s badge of recognition for men who have weathered trials in life.
Jerry’s trials began at age 13 when he landed in juvenile detention for the first time. Born in Northwest D.C., he grew up just two blocks from the U Street community that birthed DC’s Black Renaissance – coined as Black Broadway – in the height of the Jim Crow era. He dreamed of a life of Cadillacs and beautiful women, but the path it led him down was anything but glamorous. Jerry spent nearly four decades behind bars, serving most of his sentence in solitary confinement.
Yet, the most interesting part of Jerry’s story is what happened after his release, less than two years ago. His case manager sent him to Central Union Mission, a faith-based nonprofit that serves the needs of the homeless and underprivileged, for a two week stay. Rooted in old habits, he immediately began looking for a new place to rob – but never found one. Instead, he discovered the opportunity to become a new man. A better man. Central Union Mission helped lead him through a spiritual transformation that changed his heart and showed him that his past no longer defined him.
Today, you’ll find Jerry in a rather surprising place – inside an industrial kitchen, baking muffins. He works for Mission Muffins, a ready-to-work program of Central Union Mission with retail and wholesale operations. Though he had never baked anything in his life prior to his first day on the job, he was trained to bake over 10 types of muffins, scones, and breakfast pies from scratch, along with three other men. He enjoys the work, and beams with pride when someone tries one of his muffins for the first time. He’s grateful for a steady job, new skills, and the ability to pay his own bills. He’s also grateful for Breadcoin, because it gives him an opportunity to give to others.
Mission Muffins was the first vendor to partner with Breadcoin, accepting the coins as payment for food items. Breadcoin provided a loan which enabled them to expand – hiring more staff, baking more goods, and distributing them further and wider. Some Sundays, Jerry and his team set up shop inside local churches and sell hundreds of muffins to hungry congregants.
If you ever get to meet Jerry, you’ll be struck by his sincere gratitude and generosity. When he’s not busy baking or volunteering at the Mission, he hands out breadcoins on the street, and considers it a blessing that he’s able to help people in need.
So next time you’re near Union Station, head to 65 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, and look for the muffin mobile. For just a couple of bucks or a breadcoin, you can try one of Jerry’s muffins (he recommends the Singin’ The Bluesberry), along with a steaming cup of “mud” – an affectionate nickname for their potently-brewed coffee. The guys on the team will be glad to see you and to share more stories of redemption, transformation, and hope borne out of the simple idea that no one in our community should go hungry.
Story: Colleen Borovsky Photo: Cary Umhau