CLEARWATER, Fla. (FOX 13) - The smell of crisp bacon and fried chicken waft through the halls of a Clearwater cafeteria. And the boisterous Bostonian behind the counter is serving up more than just food, he’s giving people hope.
“I call it the place of living angels. It's just a good place. They care about you here,” said Brian Monaghan.
Brian is talking about the “Homeless Empowerment Program,” a local shelter providing food, clothes and other programs to anyone in need. Today’s lunch is just one of the nearly 120,000 thousand meals the program dishes out every year and none if it would be possible without help from volunteers like Brian.
“You have to give back. You just can't take and expect not to give back something," he said. "That's slug in my book."
Like most hometown heroes, Brian stays humble about his good work.
“I can't boil water so you don't want me to touch any of the food. I cut the desserts, I do the salad bar, if the bathroom is crummy, I’ll do that too,” he explained.
Brian would do just about anything for the program he said saved his life and remembers a time, not long ago, when he was on the other side of the counter.
“I came here an empty shell after serving 10 years. I suffered PTSD, I went through a divorce, and HEP brought me together,” Brian said.
HEP provided Brian with all the necessities needed to get him back on his feet, including counseling for addiction and depression.
“I started new when I got out of here. Every time I put that key in that door and I walk into my house, I don't believe it,” said Brian.
It’s that attitude of gratitude that keeps him coming back, volunteering at least three days a week for the past eight years.
“I think that's what motivates Brian a lot. He knows what it's like to be where he's been. So, he puts his heart and his soul into it,” said HEP’s head chef Dave Brewer.
Nowadays, Brian is the one doing the helping. His story serves as an inspiration for everyone who walks through the shelter’s doors.
“They see that there is a happy ending in sight. You can come here and get help. When you leave and go back into the community, you are able to give back in return,” said HEP’s Ashley Lowery.
Even though Brian now has a house of his own, Brian says HEP will always have a place in his heart.
“When I come around the corner on Betty Lane," Brian said, it feels like I'm home."