Thus says the LORD: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
This was the first mass reading from Isaiah chapter 58 for Sunday February 9th. It could not have been more appropriate as I and my brothers Zack, Vinny, and Joe hit the streets of Baltimore on a bitterly cold day to provide food to the homeless.
Before diving into the details of our experience in Baltimore, I would like to share a little of how I found myself with this crew that day. During the spring of last year I was struggling with how I could give my time to the Lord. It just so happened that during the annual Seven Church walk for DC Young Adults, I was able to talk with a representative from Catholic Charities DC. When I told her I was looking for volunteer opportunities, the first question she asked was if I worked full-time. When I responded back yes, she said that makes volunteering difficult which left me discouraged. While walking between the churches we encountered multiple people who instead of giving money to, I gave them food out of my backpack. That’s when it hit me. If my life doesn’t allow me to volunteer with structured programs, there is nothing to stop me from handing out food on my own when I can. I told myself that I would do this once a month. While the monthly trips haven’t happened, I have handed out food at least once near Dupont Circle, generally finding the recipients to be quite appreciative.
When Zack asked me if I would like join the guys to hand out food, the only answer I could give was yes. Things were planned out such that we would buy some hamburgers at a McDonald’s and then head over to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. We also had hot chocolate and some other goodies that were leftovers from a retreat Zack had attended the day before. We drove to Baltimore in two separate cars, myself with Zack, and Vinny and Joe came up in Vinny’s truck. Zack dropped me off outside the McDonald’s while he found parking. The service started right away when a woman outside the restaurant asked if I could help her with some food, which of course I could as that was why we were there.
In terms of ordering the burgers to hand out, I don’t eat at McDonald’s anymore, but when I did, the regular hamburgers seemed so small. Buying a quarter pounder was a given. So when I pictured people being hungry, I really felt like they should get something substantial. What I didn’t realize going into this adventure is that quarter pounders appear to be a bit of a luxury item in lower income neighborhoods. When going up to the cashier, I first allowed the woman who approached me outside to order, then I followed up by asking for 20 quarter pounders. The woman behind the counter was stunned to the point of not being able to process the order. I repeated multiple times, and it didn’t get through to her until after I explained why I was purchasing 20 quarter pounders, causing a tear to come from her eye.
After the purchase, I was approached outside the restaurant as I waited for the rest of the guys by a man who was hungry, and who I also suspect was tipped via TXT by the first woman, so I gave him a burger. There was also an older man, who didn’t look to be in the best shape, taking shelter in the bus stop on that corner so I gave a burger to him as well. After Zack, Vinny, and Joe made their way to the restaurant, we chatted with these two gentleman, and gave the older man some much needed hot chocolate. The younger man, named Will, pointed us to where he thought we could find some others who hungry, but that didn’t pan out.
We decided to stick to the original plan and headed towards MLK, Jr. Blvd., which is where we met Glover, who would become our scout. After we gave food to Glover and his friend, we asked where we could find more people. Some of us thought Glover mentioned a park, and others of us thought he mentioned a bar, either way, he was leading us there. He didn’t just lead, he charged ahead asking people left and right if they were hungry. At one point we had to stop because of the number of people we were giving food to. One man, named Mike, said he was really hungry and that the soup kitchens were often so full that many people can’t get in on the weekend. A cat even came running towards us. It rubbed up against me, which broke my heart, but I didn’t want to give it food in front of people who were hungry.
Our stop didn’t stop Glover, so we lost our scout. We continued on, and found a few more people who we hooked up with some burgers. By this point, we had ventured rather far from the cars and both Zack and Joe needed to make it back for 5:00 mass at OLPH. As the end of the day was approaching, we remarked how we hoped to one day see Glover again in heaven. To our surprise, Glover bursts out of the corner bar, “I told you they were coming!” It turns out he was leading us to a bar after all. :) Inside we gave away just about all of the food we had. I was touched by one man, Jay was his name, who refused, preferring we give the food to someone hungry. Also, during that time, another man walked into the bar handing out blankets. The Lord was at work that day my friends! Another man outside the bar, when he realized we were giving out quarter pounders, used language I will not repeat here, but in its own way showed the overall appreciation those we encountered had.
There is something of massive importance that I have left out so far. We were not just handing out food, we were praying for and over those who we met on the streets. Blessed Mother Teresa talked of there being a spiritual poverty in the United States. Nearly 100% of those we talked with wanted prayer. My hope is that our presence there for just a few hours on one Sunday afternoon gave them some hope for their lives and helped them feel loved, even if that love came from complete strangers.
Finally, there were a few takeaways. First and foremost, serving doesn’t have to be laborious. We all had a blast. Additionally, for myself, I went in with the idea of feeding the homeless, but learned that there are many who have homes who are hungry nonetheless. I also saw how easy it is to take things for granted. Who knew that something as simple as a quarter pounder could be so powerful. Overall it was an awesome day, and I hope you can join us next time!