On the third Sunday of almost every month for the last 25 years, I have served food to the homeless in Denver. At each monthly service between 250 and 350 meals are served.
Some of our guests get a little tricky; changing their t-shirts or taking off their hats to get into line again for a second meal. “This one is for my brother” they say or “this one is for next month”- sometimes getting in line even a third time! Our records show how many meals are served, maybe not necessarily how many people.
Interestingly, the homeless community we served 20 years ago and the homeless community now are very different. Today some wear more flashy clothes and jewelry or have a nice bicycle or designer sneakers. Earphones on, music blasting in their ears, some go through the line without saying a word; just bobbing up and down to the music or talking away on cell phones.
Some of our guests however look like they really need a meal; many are in pretty bad shape. Blind people with canes come through the line or people in wheelchairs to receive their meal bags, always politely saying thank you. We also always have our regulars who are there every month of the year.
It is a difficult subject. How do you draw the line between who is deserving of a free meal and who is not?
I have heard many times the strong opinions of people who say that if you give people free food they will become dependent on handouts. I have even heard people say “these kind of people would die of starvation if left alone; we should leave the process of natural selection alone”.
So I know that not everyone totally approves of our monthly meal services. The reality is that even I every once in a while, when feeding someone totally unruly or almost dangerous to others think to myself, “Why are we feeding this person”? I am reminded however, when I see the line of people waiting for our meal, some of them even arriving the night before to claim their place in the front of the line, that if even ten people find the meal gratifying and are thankful and happy even for a very short while, I am gratified.
For the last few years, we have served our meals to the homeless in the alley behind the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church. As our van full of foods pulls down the alley for the final approach, we are received with waves and a great clap of hands. Some of our guests scurry to organize the lines, waking up those who are lying down and getting everyone ready to receive the meal. After the service as our van is leaving they wave goodbye with a thank you.
My message to the Homeless,
I know you all have your own networks and access to services so some of you might read this article. Sometimes it is not your choice or the result of any actions of your own, life has just taken you down a downward path towards the bottom. We cannot give you a successful career or a nice family or a good home to live in; all we can do is prepare a meal for you and serve you once a month. Our service to you is sometimes criticized and other times agreed with and supported. Help us support you and gain support for you.
There are 300 different reasons why the 300 people gather in the alley behind St Elizabeth’s for our monthly Sunday meal. That alley, where bread is broken it is shared equally. For all to gather and have a good meal is my goal.
I ask for your help in keeping the naysayers away. Throw away the left over containers in the trash cans and walk carefully on the grounds, taking care not to step on the living plants. These are things that you can do to stem any doubt in the value of this service.
Meaningful cross-cultural exchange: Higashi Naruse Village guests help with the meal service.
Homeless Meal Service Record April-September 2015
April 19th 252
May 17th 258
June 21st 225
July 19th 297
Aug 23rd 307
Sept 20th 272
Grand Total of Meals Served 78,153
Nippon Kan Kancho