Friday, January 23, 2015
Today was heartbreaking and difficult as it was our last day serving in DC. It was a day of lasts; last day at Food and Friends, last ride on the Metro together, last family dinner, last dance routine by JT, and the most significant last: our last dinner and night at the Center with the guys.
We can speak for each and every one of us when we say that in the months before this trip, and even the days leading up to it, we did not expect to have our eyes opened and our hearts changed the way they were this week. NONE of us expected to leave the Father McKenna Center and our nation’s Capital being friends with these men that were complete strangers just one week ago.
Even though it was our final day here, it was a busy one! Our first activity was our final shift at Food and Friends. We helped out again this morning with various tasks that they need assistance with. From packing cold, protein, and produce bags, to wrapping frozen meat and fruit, to packing grocery bags that the customers receive, we were productive all around.
We also had the opportunity to work with some high school students from a Baptist high school in Maryland who were there for the morning. They were a blast to work with! After some laborious hours, we were rewarded with donuts and candy. (Treats quickly had become a tradition this week, after they gave us freshly baked snickerdoodles on our first day!) Charles, one of the head staff there and an awesome guy to work with, had us put our school name and individual names on an apron that groups from various schools have signed. What an honor! Charles, along with two of the other guys we worked with, Les and Brandon, thanked us repeatedly for our hard work this week and told us how appreciative they were of our assistance. They also told us how glad they were to get to know us and how great we all were to work with! The pleasure was definitely ours as well, and we all hope to end up back there someday in one way or another!
After a bittersweet morning at Food and Friends, we were able to come back to the Father McKenna Center for lunch. Since all of the guys were watching Iron Man (part of the center’s Friday afternoon movie tradition), we did not get to socialize as much as we normally would, but we did run into some other familiar faces. The St. Norbert Knights For Life group that came for the March For Life yesterday set aside their day to serve the guys and help organize the pantry!
After our group’s dedication to the pantry this week, the Knights for Life’s help this afternoon, and assistance from some of the Hypothermia Men, the food pantry is organized and much more presentable! Mike, another coordinator here, is in charge of the pantry and was beyond grateful for all of the effort and time put into getting his “baby” organized! The founders of the pantry will actually be visiting next week and Mike is so excited to be able to show it off! It is also great that it is so efficient and clean for the many guests who visit daily to receive food.
Late this afternoon, we had a second opportunity to bring meals to people on the streets. On Sunday, we worked with NCC (National Community Church) to hand out bagged lunches. This time, we met a group of students from several different colleges at Catholic University of America and brought hot meals to those seeking shelter in the park and metro station of downtown DC. Seeing all of the people from the park basically line up when they saw our group coming reinforced the idea that consistency is key when serving these people. The organization that we served with delivers meals like these every week, and the people they serve certainly depend on that. When we reached the metro station, we were exposed to a side of homelessness that we had not encountered much of yet. The people there were sitting against the wall wrapped up in most of what they had. There were so many of them, and it broke our hearts to see the state that some of them were in. Each time they were given a meal, however, they thanked us tremendously and wished us well as we moved along our route.
We eventually made our way back to the center after stopping for a few miscellaneous things for dinner. Our Kitchen Crew, Elizabeth, Emma, and Bryce, prepared us some delicious sloppy joes, spaghetti, garlic bread, and French fries. Later, we joined the guys to eat dinner with them. After just a week together, we are all such great friends and each of have developed relationships with many of these guys that we will carry on far after this week.
After cleanup, Lydia announced that a family photo was happening in the church whether anyone liked it or not! So everyone that wanted to participate headed in and we got everyone set up for the photo opportunity! After the photo, we spent some time saying our goodbyes to the guys. There were some tearful exchanges of emails, other contact information, and many well wishes. It is so sad to say goodbye for now to these incredible men that we have all become such good friends with.
One of the guys that many of us had had the opportunity to get to know this week was Adrian, and one thing he said to Lydia tonight was this: “We are family, and have been from day one. The whole group just clicked.” We could not have put it any better, and all of us agree that we did indeed become a family this week. Many of the guys commented on how different we were from any group that has ever come through here. Our sincerity, genuineness of heart and true desire to serve, and overall contagious personalities made for a group that they all wanted to be around. The lessons, insights, and knowledge we have gained from all of them have changed our hearts and mindsets this week. It is hard to put many of our feelings into words because we have been blessed and inspired in insurmountable ways.
The Hypothermia Men, every single volunteer and staff member we worked with, and the homelessness we encountered on the streets or at another function, have shown us the true meaning of compassion. We are all the same, no matter what situation we happen to be in at the time. We have inspired each other with our stories and recognition that each of us matter for who we are and what we can contribute, no matter what that may be. We are inspired by volunteers’ and staff’s dedication to the causes of homelessness and poverty. Like we said, we never expected to leave here this changed and to actually say that we are friends with these men. They may be experiencing homelessness, but inside they have a beating heart, love to share, and hopes and dreams…just like any one of us. Humanizing this group of people has been one of the most significant takeaways from this trip.
We have already begun to prepare ideas about how we can bring these insights back to campus, the community, and our own hometowns. We plan to incorporate our newfound epiphanies of simple living and compassion into our everyday lives.
We thank God for opening our hearts to these men, what they had to share with us, and what we were able to share with them. We pray that He may continue to guide them in their lives and that he may allow us to remain in touch with as many of them as possible. As it says in Galatians 5:13-14; “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Amen!
We also wanted to give a huge shout out to Megan, who unfortunately had to fly home early this morning as her family experienced an unexpected death this week. She has been a real trooper and has been able to participate in everything this week despite what is going on back home. You and your family are and will continue to be in all of our thoughts and prayers.
For the last time, all of our sleeping bags are set up, our alarms are set, and our suitcases are ready to be packed. With hearts full of gratitude for this indescribable experience and sadness that it has come to an end, we prepare to leave DC and return to St. Norbert as changed individuals.
No matter how much time passes, we know that these experiences and these people will never be forgotten. Each and every one of them holds a special place in our hearts and motivates us to be better people than we were when we landed in DC last Saturday evening.
DC, we are forever grateful to you and the wonderful people of your city.