Hi all! Today, Jovi, Lacey, and I (Kaele) were tasked with composing a blog post to summarize our day's activities. As you may know, today was our group's first full day of service- as we go through the plunge before anything else, I think we have the chance to bond a lot before delving into service. This definitely showed- in a couple breaker's words, "we were all getting a bit weird". While that may be the case (as there were a lot of loopy laughter fits), it's been great to see the dynamic between all 13 of us flourish, and it has added a great note to our work. Service overall is based in compassion, and we have all especially experienced that by working closely with people experiencing homelessness. One of the biggest goals has been to engage in conversation with as many people as possible, and to treat them all with the respect and humanity that can be hard to find on the street. The evolving bonds that we've created within the group have made this easier, and I think we all have settled into our service roles well! I'm proud of each and every person for stretching their comfort zone to not only create friends within our group, but with everybody that we've met through service.
To begin our day, we helped serve breakfast with a local soup kitchen called Charlie's Place. This community partner is based out of a church, and serves breakfast to about 40-70 people between Tuesday-Saturday. Along with breakfast, Charlie's Place also offers a clothing closet, weekly book club, and visits from case workers, barbers, nurses, and more. Six of us (including Jovi and I) had visited yesterday morning while still experiencing homelessness- the dissonance was odd at first, but each person was very receptive and it was a great experience to see both sides of the operation.
One of the things that stood out to us the most was the humbleness of the whole crew. Each of the coordinators took the time to make us feel like warmly welcomed guests- one even took the time to show us around the chapel and explain his story with homelessness, why he has the passion he does, and who Charlie was (you can find out for yourself here). They also clearly had a theme of respect- for the services, for each other, and for yourself. During opening statements, the speaker was very clear with this and made sure we were all reminded to thank each other for helping and/or being there. Another interesting note was that visitors were called "clients" instead of the homeless- a small action that carried a lot of respect.
With all the respect and hospitality shown at Charlie's Place, we left with an overall sense of openness and comfort. Many breakers found clients with whom they had both meaningful and casual conversation with, and we all noticed that there were many people with many things to say. Like I mentioned before, all of the coordinators also went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and welcomed- this was only made greater by chatting with some about the weather, how they spend their days off, and everything in between. I think we all left feeling like we had made genuine connections with people at every level.
The next stop for the day was DC Central Kitchen, for the 2nd time. We thankfully ended up in the right location at the right time today! :) this community partner is set up for a much larger scale operation- DCCK preps over 5,000 meals a day, and volunteers mostly work with chefs doing food prep rather than distribution. A unique feature about this organization, though, is that they offer a program for individuals experiencing homelessness/poverty to go through culinary training and be placed with a job as a DCCK chef afterwards.
We were split into groups of 2-3 and put to work right away. This allowed good time for us to grow closer with specific people, as well as chefs we worked with- all of whom great sense of humor with tons of witty comments for us and each other. We left with another positive experience and had a lot of fun, even though our service was repetitive food prep for 3 hours. This speaks to the attitude and greatness of DCCK, which is something that I've experienced every time I've worked with them.
During reflection, we talked about the value between small actions that mean a lot to one person compared to looking at the complexities and depth that many social justice issues have (it would be beneficial to read this, and then this for some background). Many of us have been struggling with finding a balance between small acts we can do for people experiencing homelessness, and how to solve the bigger issue of 600,000 Americans living on the street. Between the 3 on leadership crew, we thought the juxtaposition between working with a smaller-scale kitchen like Charlie's Place, and the finely tuned and massive operation that is DCCK was conveniently reflective of this difference.
During pre-trip meetings, our group had a lot of discussion about the multiple forms of oppression. On the levels experienced, there are 3 forms- individual, institutional, and societal. It was interesting for the 3 of us to think about how even different organizations can affect different levels. For example, we were able to challenge the oppressions that clients at Charlie's Place felt by making sure they had a meal and engaging in conversation/getting to know people. However, on the flip side, DCCK is able to fight more institutional oppression by having such a large operation and the ability to partner with other institutions within DC. They often engage with large companies to have employees (who may not think about homelessness much) volunteer and interact with those experiencing homelessness, or set up programs partnering with schools and other kitchens to ensure meals are provided in many different places. Overall, it's refreshing to be surrounded by people and organizations committed to fighting the social stigmas and oppression that certain groups face- which, in itself, is some of the magic that comes with Catalyst.
Clearly we had quite the day, and the next two look to be no exception- tomorrow, we're splitting up in the morning, and one group will be working with SOME (So Others May Eat)- a large soup kitchen- while the other breakers will be working with a shelter called Central Union Mission. We will then reconvene and tour Bread for the City to learn about the comprehensive programs they offer. We all want to thank you for your support- check back tomorrow to find more!
Kaele, Jovi, and Lacey