Lewis County Drug Court Graduate Turned Gas Station Manager Provides Free Meals on Christmas


Inspired by Gather Church’s tradition of providing free meals to homeless people for Thanksgiving, Leah Rader, general manager of the Chevron station located at 520 South Tower Ave., spent her Christmas cooking and serving hot dinners free of charge.

Rader, a 36-year-old mother of three from Centralia, said she simply wanted to serve the community. 

The Christmas dinners represented an escalation from Rader’s initial foray into providing free meals last Thanksgiving, when she served about 40 meals at the station before running out of food. 

She stepped up the effort for Christmas. 

“What inspired me for the Christmas dinner is I knew I wanted to work and I wanted to do something bigger, serve more people, since Gather doesn’t do a Christmas dinner,” Rader said. 

Despite not providing Christmas dinner, Gather Church members found out what Rader was doing and donated food and cooking equipment for her to use. 

“They donated a lot of food and let me use their roasters, which was nice because I had a lot of turkeys and hams to cook,” Rader said. 

Rader and those assisting her served about 140 free meals on Christmas and an additional 30 meals the next day.

Rader said she took it upon herself to offer free Christmas dinners not only because of what she saw Gather Church do on Thanksgiving but because of her own experience dealing with drug abuse and homelessness.  

“I’m a recovering addict and I’ve been homeless. It’s my choices that got me there, but being homeless on a holiday, not being able to go to family’s houses for a warm meal, it sucks. I just wanted to be able to provide that for people,” Rader said. 

She recalled a time when due to her drug addiction, Rader was living on the streets and all she had for her own Christmas meal was whatever she could afford at a convenience store. 

“I didn’t blame my family for not inviting me. It was my choices that got me there, but it still sucks. Nobody wants to be homeless or that deep in addiction,” Rader said.

Rader has been sober for five years and graduated from the Lewis County Drug Court program three years ago. 

Lewis County Drug Court was created in 2004 and is a voluntary program for addicts charged with a felony, according to Drug Court Program Manager Stephanie Miller.

The program targets high need and risk offenders with a poor prognosis for success on their own. It aids them with structure and support using a three-phase recovery program. Drug Court lasts a minimum of 16 months with most participants graduating after 19 to 22 months.

To graduate, a Drug Court participant must have a full-time job, stable housing, complete recommended treatment, be clean for at least six months and in the program for at least 16 months, have a sober mentor and pay any court-ordered fines and restitution stemming from their case according to Miller. Once a person graduates, their charges are dismissed. 

Rader thanked not only Gather Church but her coworkers and family members who joined her on Christmas to help serve the free meals. 

“My mom, my father-in-law and mother-in-law, my husband, my two employees, they all helped serve. I thought I could do it by myself and I’m a little stubborn. I was like, ‘this is my idea so I need to follow through with it, nobody else wants to be doing this on Christmas,’ but I’m thankful they all showed up and didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer because I couldn’t have done it by myself,” Rader said. 

This isn’t the last free meal service Rader hopes to provide as she is already working on plans for an Easter dinner and aims to provide free meals on every major holiday in the future. She also hopes to inspire other businesses in town to help those in need during the holidays.