Monday, August 23, 2010

Lunch Time Serenades

It is about nine-thirty in the morning when they start to gather. Men and women, mostly men in the earlier hours. The doors open soon, and the line is already around the building. The air is moist, but cool; it helps maintain the subdued mood, and keeps the waiting masses from losing patience. Conversations bounce back and forth along the line. Stories from the weekend, and the coming days. Ideas about job openings, school starting, and the weather. It is a beautiful day, an easy day to wait outside to get a meal.

There is currently a man outside the Center. Sitting on a bench near the sidewalk just across from the crowd, (numbering nearly two hundred at this point), of hungry people lined up to receive lunch. The light in his eyes is proud and warm, his brown drab suit seems a bit dusty, the black scuffed shoes on his feet are clean, but worn; they have seen a lot of miles. His practiced hands stretch over the keys of an old alto saxophone, he puts his lips to the reed and inhales deeply through his nose. The air instantly fills with thick sounds of jazz, it blankets the crowd, enveloping them in the vagaries of hypnotic notes.

The man plays with his eyes closed, brow bent in concentration and lips pursed. One after another the tunes ring out over the growing crowd. Calming the conversations to quiet whispers as the waiting people drink in the moment. Some seem to allow themselves to forget that they are waiting for the only meal they may get today. Instead, for a few moments, they are listening to a concert, played only for them. The appreciation is palpable.

All too soon it is time. The doors are unlocked and The Franciscan Center opens for the day. The crowd begins to shuffle in, forming a line to the cafeteria style kitchen; where spaghetti with marinara made from organic fresh veggies, and garden salad waits for them.

The musician too follows the crowd. He carefully places his reed in a container and tucks it into the instrument case. Lowering his saxophone into the case he wipes the brass with a red handkerchief and snaps the lid shut. Standing and gathering a backpack, and his sax he joins the growing crowd and files into the center, looking forward to filling his stomach and quieting the hunger that rings in his ears too loudly sometimes.

The Franciscan Center feeds between 350 and 500 men, woman and children nutritious lunches Monday through Thursday. Each day our cooks prepare meals, knowing that they may be the only meal that our guests have. We feed everyone who comes to the door, and is in need. Be it this homeless musician, or families who's parents are out of work, the underemployed, and elderly who can's seem to make the monthly budget cover medications and food. If you are hungry we welcome you. Here you will find respect, kindness, and people who genuinely care about your needs, and who believe in the dignity of every human being.

- written by Heather L. Newman

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Food + Dignity = Healthy Mondays

There is a long legacy here at The Franciscan Center. We serve our community, meeting the needs as they come through our doors. Our doors seem to always be revolving, and the needs seems to never end. 

The word Dignity is painted across the lips of everyone who works and volunteers here. The hallways, kitchen, dining rooms, classrooms and meeting spaces are impregnated with a deep belief in the inherent and inviolable rights that all individuals deserve respect and ethical treatment. What has always set us apart in the minds of the community in which we serve, is that we treat them with dignity and respect. In every effort, every conversation, every act of kindness; it is delivered with dignity.

Personal dignity is something that I have always been keenly aware of.  It does not escape me that dignity is closely related to concepts like virtuerespectself-respectautonomyhuman rights, and enlightened reason. Translated into feeding the urban hungry means that it is our duty to provide meals with dignity. To us that means nutritious, balanced, seasonal, and delicious. 

A few weeks back I met with a Ralph Loglisci from  The Center for a Livable Future. He heads up the Meatless Monday and Healthy Monday initiative for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The reason for our meeting, of course, is to continue our course here at the Franciscan Center; to provide the healthiest meals we can to our clients. Partnering with the Center for a Livable Future is a natural progression.

Ralph's love of nutrition is infectious. It mirrors my own. In speaking with him about our clients, and the nutritional needs we are trying to meet, he shares some deep insights into why he is working toward Healthy Mondays. As American's we usually don't eat well. As a whole, we don't pay attention to what goes into our bodies, where it comes from, or how it is effecting  not only who we are, our health, but the world around us.

Healthy Monday's isn't just about decreasing the meat intake. In fact, we believe our clients need the protein and calories. It is about being mindful about what we put in our bodies. It is about setting our intentions for the coming week. Taking a moment to meditate on the meal we are about to eat, and what benefits it will have to our minds, our physical bodies, and our spirits. It is also about understanding that the food we take in are the calories that we need to exist, and that those calories should mirror the people we want to be.

Healthy Mondays is ultimately a way to treat ourselves with dignity. Bringing the idea to The Franciscan Center means taking some time to educate our clients about the nutritional needs they have, and how being mindful about food can translate into being mindful about the other aspects of their lives. It is a way to enhance the self awareness, and to grow self-dignity within a population that is forgotten, ignored, and undervalued.

We would encourage you to bring Healthy Monday into your life. Take a moment at the beginning of your week to set your intentions. Look at the choices you make for the week and how they effect your body, mind and spirit: then choose to create a healthy balanced world around you.

Written by Heather L. Newman

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Mother, A Sister, and A Nurse.

Some time ago a Sister from St. Francis came to The Franciscan Center and met with Judy, the director of Responsive Services. The tiny woman held a crisp white envelope out for Judy. On the front, in small shaky block letting it said, "For a mother with child/children."

Tucked inside was fifty dollars. A heartfelt gift, for someone to come. Judy took the envelope and placed it into her desk, and into the back of her mind. Saving the envelope for just the right moment.

Months later a woman entered the center, and found herself sitting at Judy's desk, answering questions from the Social Worker. "What is it that you need?" asked Judy.

The woman's only request was for help paying for a Maryland ID. The Responsive Services had a few funds to help her with her only expressed need. It was when Judy looked into her eyes and listened to her tell her story, that she learned of the woman's true needs.

She and her two small children had just moved to Baltimore from Virginia, they were barely making ends meet. Her only income, a small disability benefit for one of the little girls. Emotion rose in her face as she explained that rent eats up most of those funds. When Judy asked why the mother hadn't found work she went on to explain that she has a LPN license in the state of Virginia, but it doesn't transfer to Maryland, and thus isn't able to find work in her new home.

Judy looked across her desk at this mother, trying so diligently to take care of her little ones. Striving to build a life in our city: trying to live with dignity.  And she asked the question, "How much does it cost to get your license here?"  The mother told her it was only a hundred dollars, but that she just couldn't afford it.

And that is when the moment arrived.

She reached into her desk and pulled out the crisp envelope with block lettering. Leaning slightly over the desk Judy explained to the mother that she had $50.00 dollars to get her started, and that with another $50.00 from The Franciscan Center's Emergency Services Funds, we would be able to help her get her Maryland nursing license.

The mother's eyes welled up with tears, as she looked at the funds that would help her on her way to a self-sufficient life. One where she could take care of her two children. She hugged Judy, wrapping her arms around the woman that had a white envelope of hope.

That small heartfelt gift changed a family. It is the gifts small and large, and the love with which we give them, that enables The Franciscan Center to impact the lives within our community. And, it is the genuine care, that you find in the Social Workers, Volunteers, and Staff that make this place like no other.

Written by: Heather L. Newman

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