Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let's Be One City At Thanksgiving

It's a well-established tradition for middle-class people on Thanksgiving morning to take a little time to help feed the homeless. This is an admirable habit, but it doesn't really break down the barriers between people -- the people with houses are doing the serving and the people without houses are doing the eating.

Here in Ventura, we have a different tradition, which we call "One City, One Meal". We all go down to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Figueroa Street and break bread together -- homeless and housed, poor and rich. The idea here is not for "us to help "them," but for everyone to get the idea that we are all friends and neighbors who live in the same city.

You can find out more about how you can participate in One City, One Meal by calling 648-4977. But to give you a flavor, I thouoght I'd re-post the blog I wrote after participating in One City, One Meal two years ago. It was titled "Help Means More Than Slopping Stuffing". Here it is:

The idea of Thanksgiving Day’s “One City, One Meal” event at the Knights of Columbus was wonderfully innovative: Instead of throngs of volunteers coming to feed the homeless, the idea was that everybody in town comes out to dine together. Yeah, lots of volunteers were still needed. But bonding and companionship, more than feeding people, was the goal.

So when we arrived at around 11, there were more than enough volunteers – and not a whole lot for us to do. My council colleague Neal Andrews, one of the godfathers of this event, told us to sit down and have a meal. We felt a little funny about this but we did it anyway. The result was a very meaningful Thanksgiving that helped me understand the “One City, One Meal” idea better.

I sat across from a guy named Denny, who appeared homeless or at least on the economic margins. At first we shared our meal in silence but after a while he struck up a conversation with me – and it was mostly about drag racing, which is his passion. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes, after which he said, “I gotta go”. At the end of it, I knew more about drag racing than I ever thought possible. But I also realized that I had given Denny something that all the stuffing-slopping in the world couldn’t achieve – a real conversation, however brief, with a real person. So many of our homeless folks struggle with mental health and with healthy social interaction.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend Allison sat down next to a Spanish-speaking woman who was struggling to eat her meal while holding her grandson. Again for 10 or 15 minutes, Allison held the boy and played with him while the grandma ate hear meal in peace.

Neither of us did what we expected to do when we showed up. Yet by sharing the “One Meal” with the “One City,” we both were able to give and share far more than we anticipated.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for re:posting this Bill, I've often referred to the original post as one of the standing endorsements of why, and what. Your experience was clearly articulated and honest.
    I'm spending more time these days developing ideas for city care carried out by the everyday citizen...finding points where living in a city could serve as an inspiration in of itself.


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