Founder of Helping Hands Passes
Jennifer Moody Albany Democrat-Herald Nov 1, 2018
Jesus told his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger.
So Les Bailey did. Every day.
The founder, chaplain and retired executive director of Albany's Helping Hands homeless shelter, whom most people just called "Pastor," died Oct. 25 at 75, leaving a lifetime's legacy of helping those in need.
A memorial service is scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Hope Church, 2817 Santiam
Highway SE. Instead of flowers, family members are asking for memorial contributions to some of Bailey's favorite charities: Feed the Children, Gideons International or the Helping Hands shelter he created.
"Les Bailey had one of the biggest hearts our community has ever seen. He devoted his life to serving the less fortunate," Mayor Sharon Konopa said. "Helping Hands Homeless Shelter lived up to its name from Les Bailey's helping and caring hands."
John Donovan, who volunteered with Bailey at the shelter for years and is currently development director, summed it up this way: "In my church, he's a saint."
Bailey grew up in West Virginia and knew what it was like to be poor, his family said. He worked to support his family and wasn't able to finish high school.
He moved with his family to Oregon in 1960 and worked at a variety of jobs, including janitorial work, driving a school bus, managing an apartment complex and working for the Albany Fire Department, before starting Oak Hill Community Church in 1984.
In a 1993 document kept by his family, Bailey himself wrote he didn't actually start the church. God did that, he said. "It was already going when I jumped on board. I was between Pastorates and waiting upon the Lord to show me what He wanted me to do, and where He wanted me to go."
Still, Bailey's name was the one that came to be associated with the church and with its efforts to help the homeless, which eventually developed into a shelter that today houses more than 100 people each night.
The nondenominational, faith-based nonprofit is now a 501(c)(3) organization that operates a kitchen, a thrift store, a chicken farm, a wood lot, a U-Haul dealership, and seasonal efforts such as warming and cooling centers and Christmas tree lots in addition to the shelter.
It began with food. Oak Hill joined other churches in making sack lunches each week. Bailey — usually accompanied by Arlene Casey, then the church's bus driver — would hand them out to anyone he could find.
Don Albright remembers those days. "We called him the Sandwich Man back then," he said. "He'd go Sunday morning with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."
Some of the people Bailey spoke with would tell him they didn't have anywhere to stay.
"He’d say, 'Well, we'll make room,'" Albright recalled. "I've never seen him turn anyone down."
And that was how Helping Hands began. At first, Bailey simply let people in need sleep in the church building itself, at 103 Main St. S.E., or in a teepee on the church's property.
"God laid on my heart Luke 4:18-19," Bailey wrote, "which reads: 'The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
The shelter effort became a formal nonprofit in 1998. It operated for a few years at 1989 Santiam Highway SE, then began a campaign in late 2002 to buy its current property at 619 Ninth Ave.
Bailey, as founder and executive director, made the shelter his second home. Jim Sapp, chaplain and current president of the board of directors for Helping Hands, got to know him there.
"We both loved the Lord, and it was a wonderful experience knowing the man," he said. "How many people do you know that run out of gas on the way home because they gave their last dollar to a homeless guy?"
Bailey's faith was steadfast and unchanging, no matter the circumstances, Sapp recalled. Once, he remembered, the shelter's cook came to Bailey in a panic, half an hour or so before lunch was to be served, to say the kitchen had no bread.
"What are we going to do?" Sapp remembered the cook telling Bailey. "He says, 'Did you try praying? No? Well, let's pray.'"
The two did, and when they said, "Amen," Sapp remembered, "There came the bread truck, driving in the driveway. "Is that fast enough for you?" he remembers Bailey quipping.
"You know, he never knew how to drive a nail. He never knew how to build anything," Sapp said. "But he knew how to pray, and he built a shelter. The Lord sent him people to help him."
In return, he said, Bailey did everything he could to help others. Once, he brought 100 $5 bills to the shelter and handed one to each person — a fortune to someone without a cent to his name.
Another time, Bailey talked down a man who was lingering at the railing of the bridge over the Willamette River, determined to jump. The man came down and, as Sapp remembers it, agreed to come work in the shelter's garden.
That was, Sapp said, just one example of Bailey's efforts that literally saved a life.
"The people that he was feeding every day, that he was housing every day — if that isn’t like Christ, I don’t know what is, you know?" Sapp said. "I never met anybody like him. He was the person the most like Christ that I ever met."
It wasn't always easy. Sapp knows of a day a man came at Bailey with a set of nunchucks; two short sticks connected by a chain and used as a martial arts weapon.
The way Sapp remembers the story, Bailey said he closed his eyes and moved forward, toward the man and his weapon.
"He put up his arm, and about that time he heard a bonk, and the guy hit himself in the head. And he went down to the floor," Sapp said. "Pastor said, 'I helped him up and I got the heck out of there.'"
Another time, Sapp said, someone stole the shelter's cleaning equipment, shampooers and all. Bailey didn't call police. Instead, he put out the word at the shelter that he would give $700 cash for the return of the items, no questions asked.
"Lo and behold, in a day or two, here it came," Sapp said. "He never told me who it was. I'm sure he didn't tell anybody. He just loved and he was kind and he believed."
The ability to love, and to practice that love even under the toughest of circumstances, was Bailey's special ability, said Dan Kress, who served as the shelter's interim director on multiple occasions and now works there part time in support services.
"Things that would normally work me up, get me upset, he'd just kind of chuckle and say, 'Well, that's just human nature, Dan. That's just human nature.'"
Bailey worked with one man for a long time, Kress remembered, trying to get him clean and sober. The man simply kept going back to drugs, and Bailey would patiently start again.
"'It’s a weakness. God will forgive him and it’s our job, too,'" Kress remembered him saying. "I would get frustrated, but he never did."
Sometimes, Kress said, a shelter resident would go to Bailey's office and beg him for $10 for cigarettes, but then go buy alcohol instead. "I'd be mad that they lied, and he'd just give a little chuckle and say, 'Maybe next time they'll learn.'"
That was Bailey, Kress said: "Glass always half full. People are good. God made them and created them and they have worth and they have value, no matter what they did in life. I never saw a more forgiving person in my life. Never.
"I think his big message was God has love for each and every person," Kress went on. "I think that's his legacy, is to remember that everyone has that value and they're all equal. They may make mistakes, but that's OK."
Tags: • Pastor Les Bailey
• Helping Hands Homeless Shelter
• Oak Hill Community Church
• John Donovan
• Jim Sapp
• Dan Kress
• Don Albright
• Sharon Konopa
by Jennifer Moody, 11/1/2018, (c) 2018 Albany Democrat-Herald