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