Alaska Life

Bean’s Cafe helped him find meaning in the darkest chapter of his life. Now he’s a star volunteer there.

Bean’s Cafe volunteer Lee Rubey talks about his experiences in the soup kitchen’s pantry. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The tumble into homelessness that led Lee Rubey to Bean's Cafe came in his 40s.

He had been a married father, with a business doing building work.

But when his marriage ended, he found himself living first in his van and then couch-surfing.

One snowy night in November 2010, he had nowhere to go.

For a year and a half, he lived in shelters and spent time at Bean's Cafe during the day. Homelessness was an education he had never asked for.

"I found out how people lived," said Rubey at Bean's Cafe recently. "I found there were a lot better people than me here."

A case worker at Bean's helped get Rubey into an apartment, he said. He's had a place of his own ever since. But he never stopped returning to Bean's.

"It was there when I needed it. I never thought I'd need it," he said.

In July, Rubey was honored as this year's outstanding client volunteer of the year.

Rubey, a frenetic 55-year-old, is now a near-constant presence at Bean's, said Josh Pepper, a program manager at the organization.

"Some weeks, he puts in 60 hours," he said. "He's marvelous."

His domain is the huge pantry where community donations are used to make 900 to 1,400 meals per day for people in need of food.

"The best way I can serve Bean's is get stuff done," said Rubey.

Bean’s Cafe volunteer Lee Rubey. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

He's the guy bringing order to an ever-changing inventory of paper products, spices, shelves of salad dressing, boxes of cocoa mix and bricks of dehydrated potatoes and cake mixes and hundreds more items. Bringing order to the food also helps bring order to his mind: Rubey said he was diagnosed in his 30s with mixed bipolar disorder.

Without Bean's, he might be home more, "drinking Pepsi and watching the Discovery Channel," but that's not how he likes it. Being at Bean's "gives me sanity and relationships and being part of a community," he said.

Rubey says winning the Gregory Jack Award is especially meaningful because he knew Gregory Jack.

Bean’s Cafe volunteer Lee Rubey displays his Gregory Jack Outstanding Client Volunteer of the Year award. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Jack was a longtime Bean's Cafe client and resident of Karluk Manor who was found dead on a loading dock in Ship Creek in 2014. Like Rubey, he was a tireless volunteer in the kitchen.

"He cut our fish. Cleaned out grease traps. Anything that needed to be done in the kitchen, he said, 'Yes, I'll make time,'" Rubey said.

To be given an award named after Jack is an honor he can't quite believe, Rubey said, fighting tears.

"Anything that has to do with Gregory Jack is good."