Four of us from Arise-- Lamont, Liz, Don James and I-- went down to the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen during supper tonight to talk to folks about the possible scaling back or maybe even closing of the soup kitchen. Liz had flyered at the noontime meal so folks knew we were coming, and that we were encouraging anyone who wanted to speak out about why the soup kitchen (and the food pantry) are so important to them to do so.
Some time this week-- maybe even tomorrow-- the Massachusetts Legislature will vote on an amendment to provide funding for the parent organization, Open Pantry Community Services. The amendment will be bundled in with dozens of others, and what will actually happen feels more like a crap shoot. I wrote about the amendment numbers and who to call here, and if you live in Massachusetts, haven't done so already, please call.
Open Pantry is broke and the city of Springfield isn't making any appreciable effort to help them. I know many agencies that help the poor are hurting. But no one can replace the role the OP plays among the community of the poor.
I saw a lot of people I know at the soup kitchen and at least one of them had good news-- he'd gotten an apartment through the city's Housing First program. Three years ago he'd been living at our six-month tent city. I saw my old friend Patrick, though, and he didn't look so good-- lost weight. I almost didn't recognize him.
The tables at the soup kitchen are not segregated, of course, but folks do tend to sort themselves out. Most of the elder Puerto Ricans sit near the kitchen and are very quiet. Single guys and women tend to sit at the tables down the middle. I saw one man I'd never seen before-- quite elderly, quite thin, in a wheelchair. I saw another guy who I'd paid to help me paint my apartment and we made arrangements for him to pick up the CDs he'd left at my house. A half dozen children sat with their parents.
The young people, those 25 or younger, sit at the tables on the sides. I don't think most people realize how very young and how very the old people who eat at soup kitchens can be. I was admiring some of the art work on the walls that is the product of Tuesday and Thursday art classes where another one of our members, Linda, is one of the teachers.
"I've been thinking of going," a blonde girl surely no more than 20 said.
"Yeah, do it," I said.
Some people who eat at soup kitchens have absolutely no food at home-- if they have a home. They might be camping or stopping for supper on their way to the shelter. Or they have a home but it's just empty. Some people who eat at the soup kitchen actually do have a little food in the cupboard. Sure, they could eat that can of creamed corn they're so sick of looking at, or the fruit cocktail. But they'd rather go down to Loaves and Fishes where they are less alone, where they can be among friends.
Maybe I just haven't been hanging out with homeless people often enough recently to see the strengths and endurance I can usually see in the community, but I must say tonight's people looked fragile and shell-shocked. Still friendly (or not), still smiling (or not) , the outlines of their bodies seemed less distinct, almost smudged. Maybe that's just me. But I'm afraid.