Today, I made the long journey around Capitol Square to the new day center that’s been open for two weeks. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had been given a task.
I attended the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Council of Churches today in Waunakee. The keynote speaker was Palker Palmer and I will write about what he said in the next couple of days. This post is about something else.
We had lunch–sandwich fixings, soup, and dessert. There was a lot of bread and coldcuts left over and as we were finishing lunch one of the WCC staff members came over to me and asked if we could use the leftovers.
There’s a backstory here. People are bringing food, donations of clothing, and the like to us all of the time. These donations are intended for the men’s shelter that is housed at Grace and operated by Porchlight. Often the donations come when there is no Porchlight staff on the premises and our staff have to deliberate about what to do with the items. We have limited storage space and a lot of groups that use our kitchen and other facilities, so we can’t really accommodate large quantities of donations. But we also don’t want to turn people away when they bring things to us, or tell them to go somewhere else. So when I was asked about the food, I immediately began thinking about all of the issues related to receiving a donation of this sort. After a lengthy pause, I agreed to take the food.
By the time I moved my car to make it easier to move the donated food, I had lit on a solution. The Day Center on E. Washington needs food for the people who use its facility during the day. I knew there would be staff on hand who would tell me immediately if they could use what I brought. And it also gave me a reason to drop in and see how things were going.
So I made my way over to E. Washington Ave. this afternoon with several pounds of turkey, roast beef, and cheese, as well as lots of bread. It’s amazing. There are people in the courtyard, smoking and chatting and when you go in the door, you’re overwhelmed by the number of people in the space, talking, visiting, hanging out. The check-in desk is manned by two volunteers, who this afternoon were probably homeless people. I found Sarah Gillmore in a backroom talking with someone. I asked her about the food, and she immediately accepted it, saying “that’ll be lunch, tomorrow.” She asked if I needed help. I saw someone I knew, called him by name, and asked him to come out to the car to help me. We brought the food into the kitchen, where another volunteer, another guest, was clearly running the kitchen.
Sarah and I chatted briefly. I asked how things were going. It’s obvious that the shelter is filling an important need. I hope that politicians, media, and others will drop by and check it out. I’m sure there will be problems–any time you get that many people in a confined space for a long period of time, there will be conflict. But what struck me was the conviviality, the community that was developing. People greeted me as I came in, engaged me in conversation. They were talking together as well. Sarah seems to have things under control. One of the great things she’s doing is involving guests in the operation of the facility.
Oh, and about those donations? We’ll be directing them to the Day Center and to Feeding the State Street Family. And I hope you will send items that way, too.
“One of the great things she’s doing is involving guests in the operation of the facility.” Excellent! Sounds like a very different setup from the old model where you must pay for the meal by passively listening to a sermon. No offense, I love a good sermon. But involving the guests in the operation sounds empowering, a way to “feed” the spirit as well as the stomach.