Last Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of serving alongside twenty volunteers from Linworth to go down to Broad Street UMC’s Manna Cafe. This meal provides a respite, a meal, and space safe from the elements for neighbors downtown, many of whom are experiencing homelessness. I always feel honored to hear the stories of those who come for dinner in settings like Manna Cafe, and this past Wednesday was no different.
One of the stories I heard was from a man who was very concerned about being served in the first round for dinner. Each guest is given a numbered ticket to control the flow of traffic in a small space. He needed to have a ticket numbered 10 or less so that he could get back to the library before they closed at 6 p.m. to get his cell phone off of the charger. When a volunteer shared with him that he could bring his cell phone to the church to charge, he said, “Oh, you guys got some chargers we can use?” The volunteer (and myself, if I’m being honest) just expected that he would have access to the charger to go with his phone. The library provides chargers that patrons can borrow.
As I drove home with another awesome volunteer from Linworth, we debriefed the evening. Having both engaged things like poverty simulations and re-entry experiences, he and I still processed how we cannot fathom the depth of challenges that those who are facing income or food insecurity can face. Add in experiencing homelessness? There are certainly things that we are unaware of that our neighbors face day in and day out.
Especially in this holiday season, I wonder if we could start listening more than we talk and offering more presence and less solution to those who may be trusting us with their stories. This neighbor did not need me or anyone else to give him a solution to his “problem.” He had it figured out, and our solution was not appropriate for him in that instance anyway! What he wanted was the opportunity to express why he was rushing through the line. He did not want the students to think he was ungrateful or impatient.
The night before Thanksgiving, maybe he just had someone he wanted to call…
… and he made it back to the library just before the doors closed. I know it because I had written down my number for him. His message to me simply said, “I made it. Happy Thanksgiving.” I hope you make it, whatever that means for you. And when you don’t? I’ll be here to listen, no solutions offered unless you ask.