They used to live on the streets. Now they hand out sleeping bags.

Max Marshall opens a trailer to unload donations to be passed out by Be Bold Street Ministries (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A dozen volunteers formed an assembly line out the door of the south Salem Big 5 Sporting Goods, just a few minutes before the store opened Friday morning.

They filled a trailer full of sleeping bags and warm socks, then held hands in a circle around the front counter and prayed with store manager Tim McKay.

The group is with Be Bold Street Ministries, a Salem nonprofit organization run by formerly homeless people who work to save lives on the streets by providing food and clothing and sharing the gospel.

Their efforts include a monthly breakfast called We See You, held at the ARCHES Project in downtown Salem. On Saturday morning, they’ll pass out hundreds of sleeping bags and other items while serving biscuits and gravy, sausage and eggs.

 “We celebrate our Savior for Christmas with our neighbors on the street,” said executive director Matt Maciera.

Tim McKay, store manager of the south Salem Big 5, prays with Be Bold Street Ministries members after ringing up donated sleeping bags. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Though Salem weather turned cold a few months ago, Maciera said they pass out sleeping bags now because the elements have usually ruined whatever items they had to keep warm at the start of the season.

“By this time of year, people’s stuff has been so exposed,” he said.

Saturday’s breakfast will start at 9 a.m., and about 50 volunteers will be on hand helping, Maciera said. As the Be Bold crew pulled into the ARCHES parking lot to unload, several people camping on the parking strip outside the building came over to help.

Maciera started Be Bold four and a half years ago, inspired by his own journey from drug addiction and homelessness to faith and sobriety. He wants to share the faith that he credits with transforming his life.

One early effort involved passing out bottled water to homeless people at Marion Square Park. He remembered an interaction with a woman he gave water to.

“She goes, ‘Thank you for reminding me that I exist,’” he said.

Maciera started crying in the park, and the woman ended up comforting him, he said, laughing at the memory.

Be Bold Street Ministries president Josh Lair and executive director Matt Maceira stand outside Lair’s garage after loading a trailer with donations. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

The group’s president, Josh Lair, used to hang out with Maciera on the streets.

They, along with many board members and regular volunteers, wear black sweatshirts with “Hope Dealer” written across the right breast, a play on their former lives consorting with dope dealers.

Lair said it’s easy to find people complaining about homeless people camping downtown on social media.

When Lair hears people speaking negatively about Salem’s homeless, he often shares his own past to challenge their perceptions.

“We’ve all been those people,” he said. “We’re all productive members of society. What people consider a waste of time – that used to be me.”

Matt Maceira, executive director of Be Bold Street Ministries grabs sleeping bags to load up a trailer at Big 5 Sporting Goods in south Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

He said the churches, businesses, other organizations and volunteers who consistently help Be Bold’s efforts show most people in Salem want to help.

McKay, the store manager, agreed.

The sleeping bags Be Bold passes out come from his store. Their retail price is $70, but he’ll sell them to anyone donating to Be Bold for $14. He also runs a sock drive in the winter and typically gets good reactions from customers who want to help.

“Most people get it,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.