August 23, 2020 Summer Sharing
Marcela Breton, Brian Orr
Mobile meals day usually fell on the second Sunday of the month, the days I set-up coffee hour and greeted. So, I didn’t often contribute to the makings of the meals, but I was grateful for the work that went into them. On the delivery side of things after service, I’ve been a passenger in Brian or Janelle’s car. I like for us to start by driving down 24th St. to see if there are any needy people there. This is because I once did my own grocery shopping at Whole Foods after we delivered all of the bagged lunches, and I felt tremendous guilt seeing someone begging for help on the bench outside the parking lot. Having just delivered 50 lunches to people, it nagged at me that I—we—didn’t help that one who was right there around the corner from our church. If there tends to be anyone, it’s usually only one person—once, an older man in a wheel chair, who smiled and accepted the brown bag, sidewalk passers by witnessing something unusual, a small gesture of generosity and hope.
As we approached Franklin Square Park, we were on the lookout for sidewalk tents or people on the street. We found places to safely pull over and hop out with a box of bagged lunches, asking if they’d like one. When they provide an affirmative, Brian was quick to offer the menu options, “Would you like PB&J or turkey?” which I find incredibly sweet. Sometimes people are eager about “Turkey!” or “Peanut Butter & Jelly!” and other times they are confused and ambivalent. We are often greeted with smiles, sometimes with enthusiastic thank yous and sometimes with tired nods of appreciation. We’ve also gotten a fair share of questions as to if we are with an organization and which one. Occasionally, we are told “no”, or “I’m okay, thank you.” A man who we recognized from previous months was glad to see us and proclaimed, “You should do this more often!” And, perhaps the kindest response, and the one I wanted to send back to you today from the recipients, “God bless you.” Sometimes, it’s repeatedly said, “God bless you. God bless you!”
As we surveyed the areas, we were on high alert, and I learned not to go overboard in my assumptions of who is needy. I once asked a man who appeared to be going through trashcans if he’d like a lunch, and he turned around and said, “No, I’m actually working right now.” He was taking out the trash. Another time getting ready to stop for a woman carrying bags—I realized she was going into a Laundromat.
When we approached closed sidewalk tents, we stopped to see if we would get a response from our greeting. Brian’s kindness surprised me again when he asked, “Is anybody home?” When we mentioned we have lunch, we usually begin to see movement in the tent, and the unzipping of the tent with a dirty hand and tired eyes peeking out. Upon offering a lunch, he or she may ask for another for someone else in the tent. Or, sometimes they direct us to the adjacent tent and ask us to leave a lunch for a fellow neighbor. Sometimes people are asleep on the park lawn or on the sidewalk, and we leave a lunch for them to wake up to. One time, I noticed one of these individuals wearing Bombas socks, and I thought of the power of that company donating a pair of socks for each pair sold. The man’s socks and our lunch are two signs of the world reaching out to help.
After making the rounds at Franklin Park, we headed to Caesar Chavez and Potrero where there are often people living under the overpass and groups congregated around the park. I remember seeing a man gulp from a bottle of tequila there at 1pm. I handed him a lunch, hoping it could be a better elixir. A man once told us a story about how well-connected he was and how he had a job—I wasn’t really listening because it didn’t matter. He was sitting in the warm sun, hungry and thirsty, and we wanted to give him a lunch. As Brian said regarding a woman who was explaining her situation to him one time, “This isn’t conditional, we want to give you a lunch—no strings attached.”
I’ve learned quite a bit from Brian. One time a woman sat outside a tent in a daze, but she was aware enough to accept and appreciate the lunch. I asked Brian why she had sores all over her face, and he said she must be a meth user. He told me a story about a friend who’s partner struggled with addiction despite being a counselor herself, and I was humbled at how sheltered my life is and how fortunate I am to have never struggled with addiction myself or had anyone close to me who has.
Even more, as I have listened to our congregation wonder what more we can do for our community over the years, as we have questioned what is realistic for our small congregation, Brian has stepped up to show what’s possible. He had a simple idea and was able to rally us to the cause. For me, it has brought me closer to him and Janelle. It has provided a more convenient time to serve after church for an hour, which is profoundly more doable for me than the Saturday service opportunity Martin de Porres. As much as we acknowledge it is a small contribution, in parallel, we know it is so much better than nothing. It is a solid start, and who knows what more we could do if we nurture this seed to further growth. For me, participation in the smiles, thanks, blessings, community building, and effort placed in the right direction is an honor and a privilege. It makes my heart reflect this scripture from Isaiah 58:10:
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
Thank you, Brian. I turn it over to you.
NVM is in the 3rd year of the mobile meals program and many of you may not know what the program is or how it started. We began to brainstorm a local ministry for NVM when session was given 5k dollars by the presbytery to use for benevolence. And being a church of our size, it was really import for us to use the money in a sustainable way that would result in long term opportunities for service. Additionally, we wanted the service opportunity to provide a way that all people in the congregation could participate.
It was on the hearts of the session members to use the money to meet a local need in the neighborhoods surrounding NVM. The session prayed and discussed how God would lead us to use the money. And through our discussion, God brought to our attention the hunger that San Franciscans experience on a daily basis and how we might help out. I’m really pleased to report that NVM delivered 1080 meals through the program. And, we usually accomplished meal prep and distribution with 8-12 volunteers.
But I want to share with you all how mobile meals has impacted me. And, specifically share how the act of meal distribution has change my heart. I hope this encourages you to discover the unique experience of interacting with our homeless neighbors through mobile meals once we get through this pandemic.
Growing up in FL, through osmosis and overhearing my parents, A world view was constructed in my heart. I began to think that hard working people have financial success and are taken care of by God. This idea birthed an unconscious bias inside me.
If God rewards hardworking people, then poor people are lazy people (and they reap the consequences of their laziness). As a Kid and young adult, my mind work in black and white, in absolutes. This unconscious bias is not only wrong, but dangerous. It quenched empathy and compassion for my fellow man. And reinforced a cruel mantra in my head “they get what they deserve”.
Since moving to SF, God has challenged many of elements of my world view. I’ve seen first-hand that we don’t really live in a meritocracy. The idea that a person can work very hard and still not be able to provide for their basic needs is one of the many forms of injustice. Living in a diverse city revealed this truth to me. Additionally, I had never taken into consideration that health crisis and mental illness leads many down the road to homelessness. Many times, people who experience hunger do so for reasons outside of their control. Having known people in these scenarios and seeing others on the street, I should have a great empathy. But, if I’m being honest, many times while walking on the street, I’m still indifferent to their suffering and judge them. Over the past 7 years, God’s been essentially deprogramming my own and softening my heart. At this leads me to the impact that mobile meal delivery, and other homeless ministries, has had on me. Its soften my heart.
I initially though that doing mobile meals would provide for God’s children and alleviate some suffering that the homeless experience on a daily basis. But, in addition to that, participating in mobile meals has been a platform for God to speak to myself exposing my internal bias, revealing a harshness in my spirit, and showed me that I need God in order to express love.
And this is where I have found that in ministering to others, they also minister to us. This sound cliché or like christianese but it’s true. Granted, it can be uncomfortable awkward to approach someone who you don’t know, offer a meal, and chat if they are receptive. Mobile meals has provided a time is where God has revealed Godself to me through community and interacting with people outside my normal social zone.
I just would like to share two stories of how when ministered to people and they ministered to us.
Early on in the beginning of mobile meals, we Marcela and I came across a woman by her tent just behind mission cliffs on Harrison street. As we approached her and offered her a meal. She just started cry (but not in a sad way) and did a sort of dance. She said, “praise God, I am so hungry and been wondering how I’m going to eat today”.
This struck me in two way: 1 that this homeless woman living on the street still had faith in God. And 2, that it all seemed predestined that we would find her, that God was fulfilling a need through us, like a miracle. The whole encounter was really humbling
Lastly before right before the pandemic had begun in the US, I was the only one that was able to deliver meals that Sunday. For some reason I felt like I should go to the tenderloin, which is not a usual location for us to serve meals. While handing out food I ran into a crowd of three young women. Probably between the ages of 16 and 20, they were struggling. I could tell that they were addicts and I was intimidated. But a thought popped in my head, “Don’t judge the, God doesn’t”. I asked if they had wanted a meal. One girl looked at me and said, “You don’t want to talk to us”. I responded by saying, “where are you all from”. and a whole conversation naturally started that lasted probably about 10 minutes. And by the end of the conversation we were laughing about crunch granola people in Boulder CO (where one of them was from). And while this seemed to be an uneventful encounter, as I drive home and reflecting, I realized that both the group of women and I had let down our guards to and connected. We were vulnerable with people we didn’t know and probably did trust. And we left the conversation Smiling. God brought us together broke down barriers.
In the end, mobile meals has taught me a couple things:
-I have bias even though I’m a progressive liberal
-Fighting my bias will be a lifelong battle
-I still need God to show me how to do the right thing (I haven’t arrived)
-I still need God’s grace to continually change my heart
-God can use me in spite of my duality. God can use us even when our thoughts and internal -Bias doesn’t reflect God’s qualities.