Friday, March 20, 2020

A few stories from the rescue mission now

Every Tuesday, I help serve breakfast at our local rescue mission.

What does it mean to "shelter in place", when you don't have a place?  It can be tough.  One of the residents there has been especially dear to me for a while -- I just realized that I met him almost a year ago, last spring (and wrote about him in this blog post).   "Phil" is someone who'd checked himself in at the mission because he's deliberate about turning his life around.  He's going through recovery; he's taking courses at a nearby school; he's figuring out how to make amends to his family.  Phil, sitting at the breakfast table with 90 other people around us in the room tells me earnestly, "I'm lucky.   I have a place to be."  He means it.

When he said that to me this past Tuesday, he was contrasting himself with another one of our friends, whom I'll call Beverly.  I've known Beverly for something like 20 years now; she had a job as a fundraiser for a large nonprofit when I first met her.  A series of One-Bad-Thing-After-Another happened.  She lost her job.  Both of her parents got sick, and she spent a few years taking care of them as their condition worsened, and then she suffered the loss of them both.  At some point, she couldn't pay her rent anymore; she has a medical condition that leads to intermittent seizures, and -- after one of these landed her in a hospital -- she was taken to the mission. 

It was an odd experience to see one of my good friends show up in the breakfast line, let me tell you.  The first week this happened, she didn't look at me, and I just let her pass.  The second week, I took a break from serving and went to sit with her while she ate.  A time or two since, she's come over to my home for a shower.  But she hasn't texted me much in the last few months, and she's not a big breakfast person so I haven't seen her in a few months.  I get most of my news about her from Phil these days.

Beverly isn't one of the long-term residents with her own room in the shelter.  She is one of the many who has overnight shelter only.  Churches and the YWCA open up space at night for people to come in and sleep; and then during the day, these places return to their normal function.  So during the day, Beverly is outside.  Until recently, she could go to the library, hang out at coffee shops.  Now, outside really means outside.  Thank goodness it's getting warmer, but still.  The other morning, when it was raining and I was hanging around at home, thinking about how hanging around at home has to be my new normal for a while, I reminded myself to be grateful for my roof and and my walls and my indoor plumbing. 

Another of my friends at the mission, Mary, is much in the same situation as Phil.  Physically, she's got a place to stay.  She has nearby family who she used to go visit once a week, but her sister now refuses to see her because of fears that Mary will be exposed to COVID-19.  I completely understand the sister.  But I also see how devastating that is for Mary.  And so, when my own kids come over for dinner, or when they text me with pictures of awesome arts and crafts they've been working on, I say my own little thank you for a family that can gather together.

Right now, by the way, our rescue mission has lots of food.  The fact that large state schools nearby have shut down suddenly means that their dining halls equally suddenly off-loaded a bunch of food.  We actually had a more sumptuous breakfast by far than in the previous months. 

The dining hall is going to change, though.  Tuesday morning, the staff was talking about moving to bagged meals, because we can't have 90 or 100 people sitting together anymore.  It's not clear how long volunteers will be welcome -- someone's going to have to put all those bagged meals together, but bringing in outsiders is still one of those uncertainties we're navigating.  For now, I'm still allowed to go help, and I'll try to do that as long as I'm symptom-free.

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