A successful restaurant owner who said she was once in dire straits herself has given an Ashland homeless man his own produce stand off Interstate 5 near Glendale.
Christine Jackson, owner of Heaven On Earth Restaurant in Azalea for the past 37 years, met Christopher Hastings, 25, while handing out free coffee and dessert in Ashland on National Prayer Day in May. She hired Hastings to work for her on occasion since then.
In what she described as a spur-of-the-moment decision, Jackson went a step further: She set up a produce stand near her restaurant for Hastings to run on weekends, with the goal of starting a farmers' market. She pays him wages and provides all the supplies, including a variety of seasonal fruit to sell that she buys locally. The produce stand opened July 4 weekend.
Jackson said she enjoys helping others because "I want people to look beyond themselves to see their talents."
Hastings and a three-man musical band called FreeWater committed to work for Jackson every weekend to help create the farmers' market, which plans to host artisans and crafters as well. The band members, who perform at the market, are on the verge of homelessness themselves, which Jackson hoped to help prevent with the weekend gig.
"I think they have what it takes to pull themselves to the next level," she said. "They needed this boost and some support."
Jackson said she bears compassion for homeless people because "I was once there myself."
Jackson drove to Oregon from San Diego 37 years ago as a 23-year-old mother with a 1-year-old child and a colt. She cleaned horse stalls for a real-estate agent in exchange for a place to live above the barn.
"Sometimes people need a jump start," she said. "Success is in your backyard. You don't have to go far."
The real-estate agent then helped her acquire her restaurant, which she started with 10 pounds of hamburger in a run-down building with a pot-bellied stove and restrooms outside.
Rose Stansbury, Heaven On Earth manager for 20 years, said she found the story inspirational because Jackson helped the men get back on their feet and become independent on Independence Day.
"She started with nothing, so she likes to inspire people with their dreams to make something out of nothing," Stansbury said. "She creates dreams."
The portable produce stand is located south of Jackson's restaurant at the Quines Creek exit (Exit 86) on I-5. It offers produce and music, along with tents, chairs and free soda and water. Travel brochures will be provided as well.
"She's like a saint," Hastings said. "She's helped me out more than I can ask."
Hastings is not a stereotypical homeless person. While he often lives in the woods under a tarp or tent, he carries a cell phone and works doing odd jobs every day. He frowns on practices such as panhandling and accepting donations without work involved.
Although he studied psychology in college, Hastings now aspires to open his own publishing company. He writes science fiction and spiritual books and plans to write a column for a local Ashland publication. He's lived in Ashland for six years and would like to continue living there.
Hastings said he holds high hopes for the success of the farmers' market in the future. "I think we still have plenty of time to expand and get the word out there and make plans for next summer."
Vera Westbrook is a reporting intern for the Medford Mail Tribune.