A roof over my head and food on my plate. Yesterday, completely by happenstance, I got the chance to meet someone a little better. I’d just dropped my third grade daughter at the church for her regular choir practice, and was going to read a little. I walked by the church’s kitchen and saw a man I recognized working with some boxes; I noticed he was only really using one arm. I quickly greeted another friend but indicated that I was not going to hang around and chat over a cup of tea, but take my tea and see if I could help the man with what he was doing, for an hour or so. I suspected he was preparing food for the homeless, to be distributed by the Salvation Army’s Grate Patrol. We had met once before, several weeks ago, when he and some other parishioners were doing this regular preparation. We were not intimates, but were closely connected, however, because I had taught his then-teenage son at Sunday School many years ago, but I had never met the boy’s father.
He indicated that he had come to do his tasks earlier because he had another commitment. I’d indicated in the past that I would not be able to help with these tasks on Wednesday, as they clashed with my kid’s afternoon activities. Yet, here I was, lending a hand, literally. I asked him what I could do. He showed me his damaged arm and picked up some plastic food bags and a Sharpie pen. “Write ‘Grate Patrol’ on these,” he told me with a smile. I did that quickly while he continued with what he was doing–making bran muffins. I joined him in that task, with my own mixing bowl, and we both worked at mixing, then placing the mix into cases, and then into the oven. We talked freely and shared some personal details, plus some little update on how his son was doing. The main thing for this other dad was “My son is living within his means”. He was very organized and shuttled me around the kitchen. His professional training was in time and motion studies. He was proud of what that had taught him. We talked about how he had found this church, though was not really a member and only occasionally went to services. His biggest connection was through preparing meals for the homeless. Some 40 minutes and 160 filled cases later, hot muffins were cooling and ready to be joined with pasta salad, sandwiches, and water in helping to feed homeless people on a Friday evening. He was very thankful for the help I’d given, and the time that had saved. I was thankful that he had been able to find some way for me to help him. We knew that the task was going to be repeated again and again, to ease hunger which we knew would not go away.
My mind wandered back to events from the evening before. Another friend and I were doing a little volunteering with homeless men, teaching them some basic computer skills, which may help them with finding jobs.
At the shelter where we taught, there were two types of homeless men: those who were in transition to home and a job, and those who were longer term users of the shelter and maybe had no work prospects on their horizons. We worked with the former group. Those three men with whom we had started some seven weeks earlier, had now been joined by about four others. Some of them already had jobs, one in a professional position, one recently as a security guard–the positions were less important than the move toward ‘self-sufficiency’, however far away that was. One man announced that he would be leaving next week, to head to the west coast, where he’d gotten lucky in a housing lottery: “Once I’m there, finding a job wont be a problem,” he said with a broad smile that was full of confidence.
When I had arrived, I’d seen that same man, who would be headed west, was walking with boxes of pizza and another man out of the shelter. He explained that the pizzas had been paid for but delivered to the wrong place, but he knew where they should be delivered. He’d redirected the delivery driver. We talked about whether he’d been tempted to keep the pizzas. “No way! I wouldn’t want that on my conscience,” he answered clearly. We may be desperate, but not dishonest, was the clear message he conveyed. A tray of baked ziti sat in the oven of the kitchen these men shared. Its smell wafted through the air as we worked on the computer. While, I worked with one man on understanding some computer applications, another man asked if I wanted some ziti before I left. I smelt it, and its aroma was delicious, but I declined the offer. More fool, me 🙂
It’s a long time since I’ve ever had to think about having somewhere to live–it had happened a long time ago, but it was always by choice and with the confidence and hope that it would not last. It’s been a long time since I wanted to get a job and could not find paying work: it had happened, a long time ago, by choice and forced, but again, with youthfulness and confidence helping me believe that it would not last.
You can have little and yet hope keeps you feeling you have so very much.