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Welcomed Where I Thought I Didn’t Belong

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This #WeBelongWR post by Rogers Radio host Mike Farwell explores his experience ‘walking a mile in someone’s shoes’ and finding a place of welcome on the other side.

We’ve seen them before. We pass them most every day.

Sometimes we feel moved enough to give them money, even though we know our spare change is virtually insignificant in getting to the root of the problem.

Yet they remain a part of our community.

They are the marginalized. The impoverished. The homeless.

On my best days, I like to think of us as all being a part of the same community. After all, we do share the same streets, the same weather, the same buildings.

But the reality is that we’re often two solitudes, the marginalized in their community and the rest of us — those who by chance or by circumstance have jobs and clean clothes and a little extra in our bank accounts — in ours.

I was fortunate enough once to get a first-hand experience at life on the other side.

I’d been invited by a local group of anti-poverty advocates to participate in a week long challenge.

The challenge was to live for one week like someone collecting social assistance from the province of Ontario. When collecting social assistance, we were told, there was only $20 per week left in the typical budget for food.

That’s right, after looking after all the other necessary bills for shelter and survival, a mere $20 was all that was typically left over for food.

I took my $20 to the grocery store and shopped as frugally as I could. Some milk, a box of cereal, a little fruit, some pasta, and some ground beef.

I kept a little bit back — about $2.50 — in case of “emergency” during the week.

I walked to work every day (since I couldn’t afford the bus) and I skipped my daily coffee — even the $0.50 cups at work.

I tried my best to be as true as I could to the $20 challenge and a fascinating thing happened.

Not only did I learn about the importance of my usual three meals a day but I learned at how missing out on that food really changes your demeanour.

I was hungry all the time by the second day of the challenge. I was irritable. I started staring at the ground on my way to work in hopes of finding some change that I could use to buy a coffee or some extra food. And by the seventh day, I had no food left.

Not a scrap.

At that point, I could have “cheated” and called off the whole thing. The drive-thru was right there and my debit card could have easily bought me a meal.

I could have gone to the grocery store and bought whatever I needed to eat and drink.img_1848

Instead I decided to stay true to the challenge and in order to satisfy my hunger on that seventh day of the challenge, I did what I thought others in my position would do.

I sought out a free community meal.

I found one served by Ray of Hope at the Salvation Army in downtown Kitchener. But I was very nervous as I entered those doors on that Sunday afternoon.

How would I be received?

There I was in my near-new winter jacket. My jeans were clean and I’d showered at home that morning. I didn’t fit the stereotype of the kind of person you’d expect to see at a free community meal.

What would everyone say?

I could smell the roast beef as soon as I stepped through the doors. I picked up a plate and got in line and nobody gave me a second glance. Nobody asked why I was there or if I belonged. They just asked what I’d like as I walked down the serving line and had my plate filled with meat, potatoes, and vegetables.

There was gravy and more salad than I could shake a stick at. There was fresh fruit.

I filled my plate with what was easily the best meal I’d had all week.

I plucked the shiniest apple I could find from the bushel at the end of the serving line.

And then I looked around for a place to sit. The awkwardness was all on my part. I sat at a table with three other men and a woman and, again, was not looked upon as an outcast. Nobody asked me why I was there or told me I wasn’t welcome.

We talked a little and ate a lot and then smiled broadly when a volunteer came by offering ice cream. This was a special treat and even though the temperature outside on this late fall day was in the single digits, we happily indulged in the extra dessert.

I’ve never been in a place where I felt less like I belonged, only to be accepted without even a hint of prejudice.

The next time we’re walking by someone in “that” marginalized community and thinking they don’t belong in “this” community, maybe we can remember how welcome we are in theirs.

October 14th, 2016
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2 Responses

  1. Scott Brush says:

    Thanks for experiencing the warmth the Ray of Hope Community Centre has to offer everyone who walks through the doors!
    FYI – Ray of Hope Community Centre is next door to Salvation Army downtown Kitchener.

  2. D. W. Dietrich says:

    A very moving story. Talk about putting yourself out there hungry and cold and getting an experience you will never forget! You have helped to change my perception forever of those panhandlers on the street and of one way community is formed; from the bottom up. Now the challenge is how can the structures of society be changed so that everyone belongs to one community including the “haves”. I’m reminded of the rich young man in the Christian scriptures. He went away sad, not accepting the invitation. Did he come back later? To try and change the wealth distribution structures? Perhaps it’s a challenge here and now for both of us.

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