Our household was big on sharing family dinner when the kids were young, but teen years weren't conducive to keeping the tradition alive. Now, it's even becoming rare for me to sit at the table and eat meals with my husband. I'm on this weird restrictive diet, so we're rarely eating the same thing. I cooked myself breakfast this morning and realized it's rare for me to cook just for myself. I like to make stuff for the family, and they just come and partake as their schedules allow.
What would eating be like if you were homeless? People in Portland are very generous with food -- I don't think anybody has to go hungry here. But wouldn't you miss the dinner table? Wouldn't the loss be less about nutrition and more about communion with loved ones? A heartbreaking circumstance of homelessness is loneliness.
I love send food to the Free Hot Soup teams. They're not just handing out food. They're gathering homeless neighbors in a community setting by offering hot, nutritious food, but it goes so much deeper than that. They're getting to know the people who show up for meals. They're sitting down with them and asking them about their days. They find out about particular needs and put out the message that someone's looking for a pair of size 9 shoes or a water-proof hat. They notice someone newly homeless, because they tend to sleep on the concrete without padding. Even a couple of layers of cardboard can insulate the body against the chilling sidewalk.
We at Waste Not Food Taxi have a necessities drive going on. I just announced it a few days ago, and already there are three large bags full of warm clothes in the tent. A beautiful blue and green Irish wool coat and matching hat. A sturdy pair of women's shoes. Several pairs of gloves. A bunch of jackets and sweaters. I don't know who dropped them off, and that's one of my favorite parts -- that people give what they can and don't seek attention or acknowledgment for it. They just care.
The other day I heard that an elderly man with cancer was living in his car. Unprepared for sudden homelessness, he needed everything, mostly warm clothes. Somebody in Tigard donated a trailer for him to live in, although they're unable to transport it. I posted the need for a tow on Facebook, and within an hour a former boss notified a friend of hers, and the deal was done. It was a long-ish drive from southwest of Portland to the northeast side. It's a fifth-wheel trailer that requires a special kind of hitch. And it's a very old trailer, on the large side, and no one was sure whether the connections for lights were working. I've never met the man who offered the tow, but I'll never forget him. I've never met the homeless man either, but it warms my heart to know that a bunch of strangers cared enough to spread the word and respond however they could. Now he has a home. And not only that, he knows that people care about him.
I'd like to challenge you to contemplate a quality we tend to take for granted -- companionship. Would your life be much different if you had no family, no friends, no one to call when you were down or even to sit and eat with? Next time you see a homeless person, please consider the loneliness they must be enduring. Maybe you can't give them a meal or warm clothes, but can you spare a smile and a few words?
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.