Excuse me, are you Listening? 7-11
Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dear Readers,

When we saw each other we just smiled.  The last time I saw her was in May.  I spoke to her briefly on the telephone several times but never met her in person.  She works at an organization that helps children who are in the worst situations.  How could we ever forget the children in our community?  We can write about the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina but what about the children who don't have the same type of parents that you're to your own children. 

Our initial smile was held by an interesting common knowledge that one day in May and then again in June will forever connect us.

Open Door

Over the past couple of months I've been eating lunch once every two weeks at the Central United Methodist Church's Open Door Ministries soup kitchen.

The soup kitchen opens at 11:30 a.m. and I get there about 12:00 p.m.  About three weeks ago, I arrived and felt a little different.  I felt like I was more aware of the plight of the people in my city.  Those who find shelter and food at this place are invisible to most of those who work or visit downtown.  In the winter, people found shelter huddled in the caverns of the church on small concrete benches with their backs away from the street.  It's the only refuge for the homeless in the downtown area.  The homeless have a meeting place for fellowship and support.

The Open Door Ministries and the church also has a hospitality room.  It's open every day to those in need.  They have copies of newspapers for those looking for employment and other information and cold or hot drinks depending on the weather.  On good days they'll have snacks like doughnuts or cookies in addition to anything else that is donated. 

There's a new wave of homeless people, they dress like Thomas M. Cooley Law School students.  They now wear jeans, short-sleeved shirts and a back pack.  Long gone are the stereotypical homeless clothing.  The new homeless are those who were working full time jobs and were laid off and now live with other relatives in order to make ends meet.  In that process, there are also those who have lost their homes to foreclosure.   The increasing challenge of trying to attain the American dream is an interesting phenomenon now that the middle class is getting poorer.    There were people who refinanced to take their family on vacation for the first time or those who accepted an adjustable rate so that they could own a home or lower their monthly payments.

I know because on some days at the soup kitchen there are those who work every day.  They've told me that they have either overextended themselves or they just don't make enough money to make ends meet. 

Waiting In Line

I bounded down the stairs to the common eating area just in time to hear a conversation that I would've rather not heard.  I didn't understand really why I was going to the soup kitchen until that moment.

The man on line wanted seconds.  He stood there holding his place with a look of desperation in his face.  He appeared to have all of his faculties so I stood behind him patiently as he asked for seconds again. 

The woman who was serving told him that he had to wait 20 minutes to get seconds.  He stood at the table staring at the food as if it were going to make the time move faster.

My legs felt like lead as I held my plate out and looked at the corner of food that was left in the long steel pan.  I was greeted with a smile and the server asked me if I wanted chili on top of my noodles, which looked like ramen noodles.  I declined the piece of buttered bread that went with the meal.

I was intent on eating the meal.  Usually I don't eat in the morning so that I'm really hungry when I go.  When was the last time that you were really hungry and found something to eat that you really didn't want? You ate it because you were hungry.  You ate it because you didn't have a choice in the matter.  You may have eaten because you forgot to take the prime rib out of the freezer.  Nevertheless, you weren't really satisfied.  Take your lack of satisfaction and multiply it by hopelessness and then divide that into hundreds of people in this town.


I hurried to the table with my friends in the shelter and I was surprised to see them with a new friend.  She introduced herself as I sat down and attempted to tell myself that I was going to eat.

The woman and I talked about the plight of those who where there.  I told her that I prefer to eat with the homeless and not serve them. 
I ate my food slowly and deliberately and was grateful for the nourishment to my body.
I took her card and told her goodbye.  As she left I told her that I would love to talk to the girls that she had in her care.

Another Day

I had planned to go to this business gathering all week.  Professionals were having an opportunity to hobnob with each other and talk about what was going on in our businesses.  I was impressed it was being held in the Lugnuts skybox.  We had a beautiful view.  It was a beautiful day. They had gourmet sandwiches with two chef's carving ham and roast beef. The salads were fresh, robust and tasty.

Then I saw my friend that I had just eaten with a few weeks ago at the soup kitchen who shared a lunch of cooked noodles with me.  We were in a totally different situation now.  We both looked totally different.  We smiled and hugged and recalled what a different space we were in.  We also spoke about how people need to appreciate their blessings and have some understanding and compassion for those who are forced eat in soup kitchens. 

I found a friend in my concern and was pleased that we both transcended race, color and economic status in order to relate to those who are “invisible” to most of us.  I challenge you to become more aware of the people around you.


Rina Risper


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