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Ladling love from a pot of pain

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Hallie Saunders’ voice goes quiet when she talks about the day they lost Hope.

Hope was her husband’s 22-year-old daughter who died of a drug overdose on July 18 - almost three years to the day that Saunders lost her sister Suzanne to drug addiction.

“When Hope turned 21, she really believed that she was going to beat this addiction,” Saunders said. That was “Hope’s hope,” said Saunders, who is working to conceptualize her stepdaughter’s goal – recovery – into an enterprise that can help addicts in the Swannanoa Valley.

If Saunders’ plans bear out, “Hope’s Hope” will make and sell soup to raise money for Recovery Ventures, a two-year residential program in Swannanoa that helps men and women with addictions. The Black Mountain resident is a dayside sous chef at The Cove, a Christian conference center near Swannanoa. Between 2006-2008, she and her husband owned and ran An Apple a Day Depot café in downtown Black Mountain.

One of the items the restaurant served was a vegan, gluten-free carrot-cashew soup - a “nutritional powerhouse” that “people would get hooked on it,” Saunders said recently, laughing at the irony. Helping her make it is Mac's, a restaurant in downtown Black Mountain behind the police station. Co-owner Pam Makinson, who spent her early years at Black Mountain Home for Children, is letting Saunders use the kitchen and sell her soup there after hours, at least until the business is sold (the restaurant is up for sale, Makinson said).

"Growing up at Black Mountain Home helped me to understand how addiction affected my family and also the other children that lived there," Makinson said. "We are happy to help."

If Saunders loses Mac's, she’ll find another kitchen, she said. She is relying on her faith to make things happen for Hope’s Hope. Faith has pulled her through some hard times, and it has seen her through her sister’s death. Suzanne, the second-oldest, was the most athletic and may have been the smartest of the four girls in the family, Saunders said.

“The funniest person you ever want to meet,” she said. “She never missed a birthday, an anniversary. She loved children.”

“We used to say, when she was good, she was incredibly good. And when she was bad, she was incredibly bad,” said Suzanne’s father, Hal Butts, who also lives in Black Mountain. “Unfortunately, she was mostly bad.”

Suzanne had what her sister suspects was an undiagnosed learning disability. As a young teen, Suzanne did what a lot of eventual addicts do, Saunders said – she “self-diagnosed,” using marijuana to make herself feel better. And that began a lifetime of pain for her family.

Suzanne took off with various men, marrying four of them. The family was never invited to any of the weddings; indeed, it rarely knew of them beforehand and didn’t know the men well, if at all. Suzanne was in and out of rehab several times, “and every time, she’d relapse almost immediately,” her father said.

She is why the Butts reside in Black Mountain. Living in Avery County when she once came looking for help, the Butts looked into rehabs in Asheville. Not liking what they saw of the city, they asked for another recommendation and were referred to a facility in Black Mountain. They got her in and moved here themselves.

After 30 years of addiction, Suzanne’s liver gave out. On July 17, 2013 in Daytona Beach with her family all there, she died, 52 years old. She had signed away the parental rights to her two young boys, who were adopted by family members.

Nearly three years later, on July 18 in Asheville, Saunders’ husband’s daughter overdosed on heroin. Her death devastated her father, Saunders said.

“He is a shell of a man,” she said. “There are a lot of different emotions that he’s dealing with. He is working through it the best he knows how. It’s been really hard to watch him navigate this grief. If it were not for Christ in his life, he would have no hope.”

At The Cove, Saunders works with women who are residents of Recovery Ventures. She hopes some of them will help make the soup for Hope’s Hope. She loves the idea of working with them in the service of other addicts while they reinforce their own recovery. If Suzanne and Hope had had Recovery Ventures, they might have made it, Saunders believes.

She is looking for help in finding places to sell the soup, which she plans to package in 12- and 16-ounce sizes. She’s not worried about finding retail outlets or finding a new kitchen, if she has too.

“I don’t have all the answers. I’m just seeing what happens,” she said. “One step at a time.”

Anyone who would like to help Saunders with the soup can reach her at 828-216-9726.

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