Many of you know or have heard of Bob Johnson. He founded a street ministry that is active every day of the year. His group is open to anyone on Sunday afternoons. They meet at 1:30 p.m. at the tennis court parking lot in Riverside Park. Anybody is welcome to come help, so as you can imagine, it can be a bit chaotic, but it is amazing how it just all falls together. The first 30 minutes consist of a prayer, figuring out who has brought what and getting the hot meal organized. There are some homeless people that live at the park or under the bridge a short distance away. Once they have been served, the entire group caravans over to Nafzger Park and this is where the majority of the work begins. Trunks of cars open up to reveal used coats, scarfs, hats, gloves, socks, boots, toiletries and many other items. A pick-up truck hatch is opened and the homeless line up to receive a hot meal donated by individuals.
Several members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have gotten involved and participate in these Sunday rituals. I think it is safe to say that we have all had our eyes opened up to what it is like out there. Of course, you have the people who have a substance abuse problem; some just can't seem to get it together. They are addicted to alcohol/drugs and use it as an escape from their life. I admit, they can be pretty fun to talk to, but the laughs are a mask to a much deeper pain; a pain that hopefully most of us will never know. Sadly, you see many Veterans, mostly from the Vietnam war. The ones I have spoken with talk a great deal about their younger years, but once the point in their life comes up that they entered the war, they tend to stop talking about themselves and eat quietly. You almost get the feeling that they think their life stopped during the Vietnam War and now they just exist and aren't truly alive. The eye-opener for all SVdP members who have spent a Sunday or two at the parks is how many working poor come to these events. The first few times I saw cars pull up and people get out to receive a new coat or a meal, I was a little put off. I thought to myself, “if you have a car, surely you have a home and don't really need to be here." I have never been more wrong in my life. I think these are the people who need this service the most. Many of these people have jobs and are doing what we as society have told them to do and that is “get a job.” Due to their jobs and the fact they work evenings, nights or weekends, they can't get to the pantries during working hours, or the one car they have is with the working adult while the other adult is at home with their children; this makes it impossible to get to the Lord's Diner. They make too much money to qualify for aid, but not enough to make ends meet. A lot of their money is tied up in high interest rate loans because they made the horrible mistake of going to “one of those places” for a cash advance to pay a gas or electric bill. Thus, the vicious circle begins and continues for most of them. While this is going on, their children see it and accept it as a way of life and will have a very difficult time breaking the cycle. I have no doubt that many of them made horrible decisions and would do anything to have the opportunity to do things over again, but none of us get to turn back the clock, so we are all left to play the hand we are dealt.
We see a man who comes for the meal, but more so because he wants people to talk to. He definitely has a colorful past. He joined a circus at the age of 13 after getting kicked out of his house by his abusive stepmother. He married at the age of 14 and eventually both his wife and daughter died. He turned to alcohol for comfort and is struggling to keep it together; he has been sober for 2 years. He has a cat, an apartment, odd jobs and this Sunday group; this is his life.
I think the most tragic story I have heard so far was from a man who told me about how horrible it is to be sitting on a park bench or on a sidewalk and have person upon person walk by him and look the other way. Trying to find the positive in something bad, I said something like at least they were not throwing things or cursing at him. His response sent a chill up my spine. He said he would much rather be cursed at or spit upon because at least then he was being acknowledged.
"The greatest injustice we have done to our poor people is that we think they are good for nothing; we have forgotten to treat them with respect, with dignity as a child of God. People have forgotten what the human touch is, what is is to smile, for somebody to smile at them, somebody to recognize them, somebody to wish them well. The terrible thing is to be unwanted" - Mother Teresa
-Gina Adams, Blessed Sacrament Parishioner