From Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle... (or) Einstein's Theory of Relativity ... (or) the Second Theory of Thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
THE TIDES ARE RISING
When I down-sized the Home Van to a food pantry, I imagined that I would be filling a small but needed niche in Gainesville's services. I knew the old loners and curmurdgeons who had been my friends and customers for years would not be moving to Grace. I knew there were a fair number of people with mental illness who find it difficult if not impossible to leave their comfort zone, and of course there would be some who, as the old Vermonters would say, were just 'agin it.' These folks would need a small service center. It was like that for the first few weeks. Since then the number of people who come to us for help, and the range of things they need, have continued to rise week by week.
Some people tried out living at Dignity Village or Grace and found out that they didn't like a living situation that involved rules and supervision. It wasn't that they wanted to run wild and see how many social norms they could shatter. It was more that it made them feel like they'd moved back in with their parents, so they left. Others left because they got into trouble - not big time, go to jail trouble, but enough trouble to be restricted from Dignity and Grace for a certain amount of time. When services were scattered about in the community, if you got into trouble at one agency, you could go to another for help. With all the agencies concentrated in one location behind a fence, you get restricted from everywhere - and that is a real problem. For example, you get restricted for getting into a fist fight, a fist fight that did not result in anyone needing medical attention. No one should be handing out awards for getting into a fist fight, but a restriction should not involve little or no access to food or blankets and such, in January. Theresa and Jon are aware of this and it is one of the many things that have to be worked out - how do you maintain order and at the same time avoid unjust levels of hardship. It is not easy. Fortunately there are volunteers from the community also working on this problem. Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village are evolving projects that we can all support in one way or another and they will only get better.
So, as people drift back downtown, there are few resources available to them down here, and my food pantry is one of them. I am officially open on Wednesday afternoons, but reasonable people (e.g., those who come by during the day time hours and ring the bell once or twice and leave if I am not home or available (as opposed to those who ring the bell 47 times), can come by if they need an aspirin or a mylar blanket. It still works but it is a larger challenge than I had expected. Giving people tents so they can establish campsites is ideal, and the city may need to give more support to such a plan on this end of town. The Sweetwater Branch tent community has been a stable, self-governed living area for many years, so it is a feasible idea. Hiring social workers to work one-on-one with people in need of mental health care would surely be not only a more compassionate strategy, but also a less expensive strategy than hauling people off to jail or the ER on a regular basis. When Howard Dean was governor of Vermont, he added up all the money being spent on homeless services, jail time, and emergency medical care, and then added up how much it would cost to give everyone a place to live. The second plan - give everyone a place to live - was MUCH CHEAPER!
To get back to my food pantry - food donations are greatly needed! Almost everyone's favorite foods are Vienna sausages, Ramen soup and peanut butter. Chef Boyardee and chunky soups are popular. With the help of my friend Cheryl, and the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, I always have a lot of boiled eggs - people love getting them. I do need granola bars and protein shakes. The granola bars, if possible, should be soft to chew. Over the counter medications and batteries, especially double and triple A batteries, are also needed. I do not need my mylar blankets - I have enough to last to spring. I also have a lot of personal hygiene products and need only razors and deodorant.
It is my sense that life has a kind of uncertain quality to it these days - so much in flux, so many question marks. I wonder how many people feel that way? The solution, I've discovered, is to life life one day at a time. Despite being Irish, and being a poet, due to some genetic miracle I'm not an alcoholic. Nevertheless, Bill W. and Dr. Bob are heros to me - the idea of "one day at a time" is the answer to almost everything.
If you would like to make a financial donation to the Home Van food bank, the check should be made out to Citizens for Social Justice and mailed to 307 SE 6th Street, Gainesville, FL 32601. To arrange for a drop-off of supplies call 352-372-4825. And, as the old timers know, I have my take-in window.
love and blessings to everyone,