Ahead of Thanksgiving, organizations in our region are working around the clock put food in the stomachs of those who go hungry.

Meet Jeff Flores, a 52-year-old man, who says he’s full of the holiday spirit.

“Never, ever, say that it can never happen to you,” says Jeff Flores. “Because it can. And in the worse way possible. It can happen.”

Flores says life was good for the vast majority of his life.

“I was living like a king,” Flores says. “I had two jobs, I had money I couldn’t even cash. I was working 16-hour days.”

But he says that all changed in 2003.

“In 2003, I lost my mother, and in 2004 I literally lost my sanity and sanctity” Flores says. “From that point on, I had no job, no leisure, no house no nothing.”

Just a year later, Flores went from living at home to living on the streets of Chicago.

“There’s a photo out there of me, my brother and my mother dressed as bums,” Flores says. “I never expected it to become a reality. After you lose the loved one that made you and you lose everything. Your sanity, your reality, your mentality, crushed in one.”

At one point, Jeff even contemplated ending it all.

But one thing kept him going – an unlikely bond formed with a stray furry friend.

“Blacky, I miss you buddy,” Flores says. “My little black cat is the only thing that saved me. Every time I went for the gun, he’d swipe my hand away. And that’s the honest truth. Little thing was so big, so cute so tiny. Every time I went to pick it up, she swiped my hand away from it.

Sam Israel: What was so special about that cat?

Jeff: He actually cared. Because after the time I left the gun on the floor, that little sprinter crawled up my leg, nimbled my ear, curved up in a ball and curled his way to sleep. You talk about a savior in sheep’s clothing. That was my little savior. Because I never touched that gun again.”

Over time, Jeff was able to climb out of the hole.

“When you become homeless, you’re not helpless,” Flores says. “You can be better and find out the reality of who you really are and with no job, no career, no anything, that’s where I stood.”

He came to Burlington around the pandemic and now has a place to live.

“It’s a blessing to have somebody look out for other people,” Flores says. “If you could have that, you could actually survive.”

And he has one final message for his late beloved mom.

“Ma if you can see me right now, I didn’t become nothing<” Flores says. “I lived on after you. It took a while.”