Thursday, November 24, 2016

“As we roll down this unfamiliar road.../Just know you’re not alone/ ‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”-Phillip Phillips, “Home”

Across the country, people are celebrating the many blessings in their lives.  From the people we love to the gifts we've been given, we spend Thanksgiving being grateful for what we have.

This Thanksgiving, I challenge you do dig deeper.  Today and always, I ask you to remember the things we so often take for granted.  There are so many things in this world that we do not remember to value until they are gone.  I have learned that there is no one better to remind us what we have to be thankful for than those without.  I surveyed 42 clients at the Union Food Pantry, and their stories and overwhelming thankfulness to the volunteers at the Food Pantry is a true example to what gratefulness is.

The clients at the Union Food Pantry have gone through rough times, to say the least.  35 of the 42 are unemployed, 18 have a disability or medical limitation of some kind, and all have a different story to tell as to why they came to the Food Pantry for help.  They represent all walks of life--from ages 21 to 69, from individuals to families of 7, from visiting the pantry for the first time or for 20 years--but they are linked by the volunteers that work to keep the pantry running, as well as by you.

This past weekend, I helped at the Union Food Pantry as the donations from the Union Boy Scouts Drive came in.  Your donations filled the shelves of both the Union Food Pantry and the Second Blessings Food Pantry, but they did so much more.  They gave clients a Thanksgiving that they otherwise would not have.  Because of your donations, clients are "able to put food on the table."  The support that clients receive from the Food Pantry allows them to put money towards electric and medical bills, gas to keep the job for the few who have one, is helping a homeless family save for a place to live, and helps those fortunate enough to have a place pay the rent to stay there.

From job loss to cancer, disability to family death, homelessness to divorce, too many bills to too little income, and every combination there-of, the life stories of the clients vary greatly.  When asked what convinced them to turn to the Food Pantry for aid, one mother replied, "When we were so low on food that we had to eat beans."  A parent of another family, who is currently without housing, replied that they turned to the food pantry after, "I had lost my job [and] turned to drugs.  When I got clean and started straight, [and was] looking for a job, I turned to the food pantry for help."

These individuals are still working to rebuild their lives from desperate situations, and they are all the more grateful because of it.  They consider the food pantry a "God-send", "a blessing", and the key to survival in time of need.  Without the support of the community, they would be unable to rebuild their lives and keep their heads above water.

And so, this Thanksgiving, I ask you to be grateful that your needs are met, and that, no matter what situation you are in, there are people who are here to support you.  Be grateful for everything you have beyond your needs as well, because not everyone has them.  Look to these individuals who are homeless and in need as an inspiration and an example of being able to find the good in life even in times of desperation and need.  Finally, I ask that you keep those in need in your thoughts and prayers today and always, and that those that are so grateful for your help may one day be able to pay it forward.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping." -Chinese Proverb

The rooms are not elaborate: two beds, a bathroom, and a small dresser for the few items a client may have are about the extent of their contents.  The food pantry is not overflowing; in fact, the shelves in the single room are usually completely bare after each day it is open.  Regular maintenance on floors, roofs, washers, water pipes, everything is much more difficult without tools and the money to pay for a plumber or electrician.  Inside the Agape House, resources are basic, but the effect they have is profound.

This statement is the embodiment of what I experienced as I toured the Agape House this past week.  The establishment is simple, but it meets the basic needs and provides a safe haven for homeless individuals across the county.  Inside those eight rooms, individuals have access to soap, toothbrushes, and blankets.  They find shelter from the cold and rain.  They can wash their clothes and shower.   They can direct their focus to rebuilding their lives, instead of worrying about the little things that others so often take for granted.

Every day, the Agape House opens its doors to everyone in need--not just those who are homeless. Anyone in need of a meal is welcome each night to share dinner with other clients and volunteers or receive items from the food pantry.  If a person is in need, the volunteers at the Agape House do everything they can to ensure he/she receives a blanket, or coat, or help paying a bill.  There is even a small "cabin" on sight to house a homeless family if the 8 rooms are filled.

The Agape House is in great need of donations.  Everyone who works there is a volunteer; they donate their time and money to those who are in greater need than themselves, even when their own personal amounts of time and money are limited.  They spend as small amounts of money as possible on the actual establishment, and nothing on anything that would benefit themselves.  Once the bills are paid to keep the lights on, everything else goes towards food and personal care items for the clients.

The Agape House is not a rich establishment, but, compared to what individuals have when they come to the Agape House for help, it is a luxury.  It is so much more important to the volunteers that anyone who needs help can find it in some way, than to spend donations unnecessarily around the establishment.

As Mother Teresa said, sometimes we must "live simply, so others may simply live."