On Christmas Day it was hard to miss Lisa Sauder, dressed in her bright red sweater and snowman scarf in the crowd at Bean’s Café, her infectious laugh carrying over the din of conversation. She wondered up and down the aisles pouring coffee for the clients that came to enjoy the shelter’s annual Christmas dinner.


“I think it’s very comforting for me to be here. There’s a lot of love here,” Sauder said.


As the nonprofit’s executive director, Sauder said there was no place she’d rather spend the holiday than giving back to people in need.


“There are hugs when you walk in the door, volunteers I haven’t seen since last year and clients that are very appreciative to be here. It’s like a big family reunion,” Sauder said.


Her usual happy hugs have been somber embraces lately. Like many of the Bean’s Café clients, Sauder is facing her own struggle behind closed doors.


“On December 3, I lost my oldest son to a heroin overdose,” she said. Her son Tucker was just 23. “He struggled with it for a number of years and we thought he was doing well but that’s the thing with addiction. It’s so hard to kick, especially when you’re talking about heroin.”


Sauder describes Tucker as an “outgoing, free spirit.” Since his death friends and family have filled her phone with pictures of fond memories.


“This is from a few years ago when my dad was still alive too,” she said, scrolling through her camera roll. “That’s the kids and my dad making fudge. My dad would make fudge every year. Hard to imagine both of them are gone,” she said.


Her family isn’t the only one dealing with addiction. Since Tucker’s death, she said, people have reached out to share their stories of drug and alcohol abuse.


“I want to tell you thank you very much for going the extra mile and telling your story,” one homeless man said to her. “I came that close to losing my daughter a year ago to alcohol,” he said.


Sauder said one of the reasons she wants to spread the message is to keep people talking about the problem so the community can come together to find a solution and treatment options for addicts.


“It doesn’t go away. It’s not going to go away. I’m hoping we can do something good from this loss,” Sauder said.


She and Alison Kear, the executive director for Covenant House, have already started the “Tucker Fund” as a way to honor her son’s memory. The money will be used to help people get into recovery programs.


“I have a couple of other friends who have children who are battling or have battled the same addiction. One of them always said, ‘As long as there’s life, there’s hope.’ There’s hope they can recover,” she said through the tears. “Some people just can’t.”


Sauder hopes sharing her story will inspire others to get the treatment they need and to know they’re not alone in whatever battle they’re fighting.


KTVA 11’s Heather Hintze can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter