Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gardens, Food, Toilets, etc.

Working, on Wednesday, with Welcome Ministries was a - pardon the pun - welcome relief for me.  There's something quite satisfying about turning a burnt-out church yard, turned dangerous open lot, into a community garden.  Especially in an area without grocery stores and fresh foods available.  And I continue to be impressed by the good and creative work of so many good people here on the ground.

The previous two days were spent serving massive meals at Glide Memorial Church's meal program.  In the course of two breakfasts and a lunch, we served about 2,200 meals.  I've never seen so much Oatmeal in all my life.  The weight of homelessness and hunger issues washes over me in settings such as Glide.  We can solve hunger with a massive meal.  But four hours later, it's back.

At those meals, one catches glimpses of humanity - people sharing food and laughing.  Hearty 'good-mornings' and 'thank yous' from guests I wouldn't expect to be cheerful.  But there are also angry words and people.  Grumpy volunteers.  And lots of despairing faces and sad stories.  It tests one's faith and hope that we can do anything but satisfy immediate needs.  So for now,  thatt's what we do.  And, while limited, it is good.

On an only moderately connected note, the water in our hostel is shut off this morning.  We have the morning off before hosting a Carnival at Hamilton Family Center this afternoon, and I planned  accordingly - with ample time to eat and shower before the 9 AM water shut down.  But mid-morning, I was in need of a restroom.  I set out to the neighborhood Vietnamese sandwich shop.  The woman behind the counter reluctantly waved me past the counter, only to be confronted with an "Out of Order" sign.  I took off toward a KFC/Taco Bell.  Closed.  I rounded the corner to see only high-rises and closed shop fronts.

This wasn't good.  I passed convenience stores and hotels.  No luck.  I was singularly focused.  But occasionally my mind wandered to the hundreds lined up just down the block at Glide.  Where, but at meal centers and shelters, do folks who are consistently, persistently without water and shelter use the bathroom?  Having walked and smelled Ellis St. many times, I knew the answer to this question.  But my own wanderings, approaching emergency levels, allowed me to consider this fact anew.  I am thankful for those who meet the basic needs of homeless people.  And thankful for the opportunity to help in a tiny way.  Even when I am drawn more to full service facilities and creative solutions to poverty.

And I found, eventually, my own relief through the metal detectors in the opulent San Fran City Hall (it was a long walk on many levels).  I suspect few of San Francisco's homeless have ever sat where I sat.

Closing on an almost-entirely unrelated note - I came downstairs yesterday as another College group was preparing to leave.  Seated on a couch was a small group of impossibly young looking students, loudly and openly complaining about any number of things.  And I realized that I had seen none of this from our group.  When the work is hard, we acknowledge it and work on.  When we're delayed or disorganized, we wait.  Play silly games.  Talk about any number of our favored subjects.  But we don't whine.  And for that, I am most thankful.  Many, myself included, have lamented the sense of entitlement that persists amongst student populations at top colleges and universities.  But it is a privilege to be among a group of intelligent, dedicated students who are here to work and reflect together, and who do so in strong spirits.  If this group is any indication, we have much about which to be hopeful.

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