So yesterday I awoke to the lovely deposit of 4 inches of snow in my area--and, of course, I had to make a trip to Cleveland for work. It never seems to fail that there is horrible winter weather for these trips this time of year.
Yesterday's trip was different though--our company was going to work in a soup kitchen in downtown Cleveland. We decided that in these hard times, a blow-out Christmas party at work wasn't necessary when there are so many others in need.
We all gathered at St. Herman's--it's a Greek Orthodox Monastery and Father Vladimir was right out of Greek Mythology himself--he kind of scared me actually--bearded, stern, you did what he said to do!
Despite a early morning water main break in Cleveland, We prepared a wonderful, hearty soup, salad, garlic bread and dessert for about 90 people. As we were preparing, Fr. V invited us to join the Monastery for "prayers". He kept saying "prayers"--so I figured it would be PRAYERS right? A few of my co-workers and I went into their chapel. I would guess about 20 other homeless had gathered--along with the monastery's newest members--8 puppies from the Dorothy the "house dog" and her mate. They were the cutest thing and added so much joy to the place with their playing and fighting with each other. I was amazed at the acceptance of pets at the shelter--Fr. V said that animals are all some of these men have left, so they are allowed to stay.
So--anyway, we go in for PRAYER. Prayers it was not my friends. It was an entire Greek Orthodox Mass--communion and all. This was fine of course--until Fr. V started passing out things to 3 of us. Guess who he decided was going to read scripture during the mass? Yes, you guessed it--ME and 2 of my co-workers.
People, I have to tell you, I feared for the life of everyone in that room when it came my turn to read the 3rd scripture (or whatever they call the reading before the gospel--Catholics only have 2 readings, so I was confused). I have no problem public speaking and having done my time in Catholic school for 12 years, I was comfortable--but I have not set foot in a church in so long, I was afraid God might smite me and in turn, kill all the innocents around me. All went well and no lighting bolts rained down--all were safe--whew!
The mass was over and we headed off to the kitchen to begin serving the meal. People were actually lined up around the building waiting for lunch to be ready. The people who walked through that door broke my heart. They are you and me--just one step in another direction. Some people you would have sworn would be working right along side you at your job. Others were lost souls--their eyes so sad and lacking hope.
What broke my heart was one little girl who came into the line with her mother. She was beautiful and had the face of an angel. Her mother had such a brave face, but the look of despair in her eyes made me realize that all mothers are the same. We only want the best for our children and we all hurt when we cannot provide everything we want for them. Why this little girl was not in school just about destroyed me. I would think she was about 9, but when you have no real home, how do you enroll for school and how do you explain to a 9 year old why she cannot go to school or why you don't have a permanent place to stay?
I talked with people in that room--some told me their stories, others just looked into their plates and would not meet my gaze. Job loss, family problems, death of a spouse or children, drugs, alcohol, mental illness--it all plays a part in the fabric of despair and homelessness. God bless the monks/Fathers at St. Herman's for taking in these people and trying to give them a better life.
The amazing thing about our guests was that THEY came up and asked God to bless US for serving them, providing them food and drink--they showed great appreciation for the meal, they wished US Merry Christmas. I was overcome. They have lost so much, yet blessed us with their love.
We went there to serve--both our fellow man and God yesterday, but I think we all walked away with a sense of how lucky we are and how grateful to God (or your preferred Deity) we should be for what we have. I don't think any of us realize how close we are to being in that soup line.
St Herman's of Alaska feeds men, women and children 3 times a day and houses men in shifts. They have 28 dorm beds that are always full. Monks live at and maintain the monastery and serve the homeless with everything they have. They always need help or donations to keep their programs running. They help with schooling and rehabilitation of those who want to get their lives back on track. This is a drug and alcohol free environment. IF you are in the area, you might consider helping those who are doing so much to serve others.
God Bless the people I met yesterday.........