Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Feeding People: Part 2 (Week 9)

“A castaway in the sea was going down for the third time when he caught sight of a passing ship. Gathering his last strength, he waved frantically and called for help. Someone on board peered at him scornfully and shouted back, "Get a boat!” 
― Daniel QuinnBeyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure

Bicycling Destination: a kitchen providing free meals.

The Dining Room
There is an interesting dynamic between patrons of soup kitchens and volunteers who work there.  No getting around the fact that the people behind the counter are going home to their own beds when the shift is over, and that meals are a stopgap at best, considering how much the people in front of the counters probably need.

You just have to set all that aside. 

A soup kitchen is a leveler.  Everybody has to refuel.  It's as simple as that.

The organizers of this place believe: (1) the better the fuel, the better people function; and (2) all people deserve respect. They aim for the best meals in as nice a setting as possible and they do a great job.  

People with physical limitations and young families get priority seating. For everyone else it's first come, first served.  On my night there was a steady line of people who were profusely, almost embarrassingly, grateful.  Many looked very, very thin. One guy shook his head to bread and salad. "No teeth to chew it," he said. "Bummer, huh?" Behind him watching intently stood his son, who looked about 4 or 5.  Another guy came in with one eye swollen shut, his face scabbed and blood on his shirt. Someone asked what happened and the guy said, "Got jumped in the park."  What could we do?  We served him dinner.  

The Dining Room is run like a restaurant with padded booths and low lighting. A young woman with a tray of desserts weaves between the booths and tables.  On the menu that night:  spaghetti, garlic bread, crustless quiche, cantaloupe and a big salad with leftover greens and cherry tomatoes from the farmer's market.  It looked bright and cheerful under the lights.  

Summer Greens, Horton Rd. Organics
There was no butter, so the staff made their own by whipping cream.

One guy looked at his plate and said, "It's beautiful."  It really was.

Some neighboring businesses are unhappy about the food kitchen, and it's easy to see why.  After dinner, a couple on the street got into a shouting match.  A guy with two sleeping bags and one good eye spent a long, long time in the bathroom, then stumbled outside, mumbling.  Another settled in a doorway, apparently for the night.  To be fair, it's not just the dining room that's a source of problems.  Down the street is a liquor store and a methadone clinic, both of which are magnets for troubled people.  Not everybody is unhappy though.  The glass blower across the street and a furniture dealer a couple blocks away say they haven't had trouble.  On my night, police on bicycles (yeah cyclists!) were on hand to deal with problems.  A half hour after the food line closed, the bike racks were empty and the street was quiet.  

Last winter, after someone was beat up and died in the homeless-infused Occupy camp, the camp was closed, and some of the best in the city put their heads together to talk about how to deal with problems associated with a sizable population of poor people. They continue to labor behind the scenes.  They need a lot of help (see below).  The Dining Room is not a bad place to start, eye to eye over a serving line.  There is no more visceral reminder of how much we all have in common, the need to eat in particular, than a food kitchen.  

Still, the question remains:  does The Dining Room belong where it is? Is the local businessman who says the dining room scares away customers, right?  If so, what kind of change, if any, is called for?

Stay tuned.  

Want to help?  Need help?  Here are some of the front line organizations in our town:
The Dining Room is Run by Food for Lane County
ShelterCare offers services to homeless people, people at risk of homelessness and people with mental illnesses and brain injury
The Eugene Mission is a faith-based organization that offers food, clothing, shelter and services
Goodwill Industries offer enterprise based services to people who have a hard time finding work

Update, week 9 in my quest to commute by bicycle 104 times in 52 weeks:  19 commutes (one ahead)

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