At a church luncheon on Sunday I watched two men pile their plates with chicken, lasagna, sandwiches, salads and then pack more food into to-go containers.
We talked as we ate. Charlie works at a call center earning $15 an hour answering questions about people’s utility bills. Luwayne and I talked about video games. He appeared to be disabled and I don’t think he works. At least he didn’t mention it.
Two guys needing to-go boxes from the church lunch to make their meals stretch through the week. That’s not someone playing poverty. That’s someone living in poverty.
In my past life as a reporter for The Post-Standard. I wrote a story about some well-meaning Girl Scouts pretending to be homeless for the night in a local hockey rink. The girls were excited for the sleepover. They were given cardboard boxes, which they decorated with sparkles and signs. I’ve never seen sparkles and drawings on the side of a homeless camp.
I’ve been to Empty Bowl fundraisers, where I bought beautiful bowls crafted by talented Syracuse University ceramic students, and received servings of soup created by local chefs. I’ve never seen a homeless person with a fancy bowl.
This past week I got an email from our old church in Skaneateles, New York, a quaint lakeside town outside of Syracuse. Members were asked if they wanted to take part in a poverty simulation on Saturday with other churches. I’ve never seen anyone living in poverty asked to attend a simulation for what it’s like to live in the middle or upper class.
What an eye opener that would be. Enough food to eat. To-go boxes filled with restaurant leftovers in the fridge. A clean bed. A car. A job to go to. A paycheck. A doctor to visit when sick. A roof over your head.
I’m not dissing any of these admirable programs meant to bring a focus on the needy. It’s just I don’t believe I’ll better understand what it is to be needy by playing poverty.
Poverty is a tricky thing. There’s no one method to end it. Some people prefer sleeping outdoors on the streets. Strange, but true. Others wandering the streets or squatting in abandoned buildings are mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Families are left homeless when someone loses a job or becomes ill. So many people are one paycheck away from having nothing to eat.
While in Pittsburgh for the winter Joe and I have hooked up with The Well, a church planted by the North American Mission Board in the Mount Washington. The neighborhood is a mix of people living in homes with million dollar views overlooking the city and poor folks who live on the streets behind them.
The Well’s stated mission is to love God, love people and do something about it.
It’s a diverse congregation. Black and white. Young and old. People who have money, those struggling to get by, and those living on the streets. People hug you when you enter church. The pastor quietly asks those whom he knows are on the streets if they have a warm place to sleep.
Once a month the church serves a meal to the local community, and once a month the congregation gathers like family for lunch, which is where we met Charlie and Luwayne.
The church has clothes for those who need them. A food pantry. And is the site of a once-a-month food bank distribution.
And while the church can’t permit people to sleep in the building, there are plans this year to renovate the bathrooms installing showers and laundry facilities that will be opened to those who need them.
The members of the Well see poverty, some live it and members are doing something about it.
There’s no need to play poverty here.
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