This blog entry was written by Elaine Bayless, a long-time friend of the CEC and a current volunteer. Elaine has a passion for puzzles, all things crafty, and can be found making pancakes on Monday mornings in the community kitchen. If you would like to read more of her writing on theology, feminism and motherhood, please check out her blog at: https://elainefbayless.blogspot.com.
I’ve financially supported Love Wins and the Community Engagement Center for a while, but I’m not much of a “hands on” kind of person. I prefer to give money than get out of my comfort zone. But recently at Love Wins, there was a crisis, and they needed volunteers at the center to keep it open. And I was available.
My primary job was to provide a “non anxious presence,” although I also handed out toiletries, sorted clothing donations, washed dishes in the kitchen, and desperately tried to learn names. I was glad I didn’t have to do anything more challenging, because I was definitely out of my comfort zone!
Despite my initial discomfort, I fell in love with the guests. I’d never had any meaningful interactions with people experiencing homelessness before. But at the Community Engagement Center, meaningful interactions were natural. Everyone is free to be themselves there. Free to talk, joke, laugh, or just sit and drink coffee.
After a few months, I realized I am a part of the community. Every Monday I make the morning pancakes. I sing my pancake song and laugh about the pancake batter being slung everywhere (I am not a neat cook). I’ve learned a lot of names, and many of the guests have learned my name too. I also work on puzzles. My first puzzle didn’t last past the first week. But when I started my second puzzle, I noticed that during the days I wasn’t there, community members covered it carefully so it wouldn’t be dismantled. I’m now on my third puzzle, and people are adding to it all week long. We laugh about whether I’ll finish it before Christmas, and joke about throwing pieces away.
The other morning I was sitting at a table chatting with a new guest. He began talking about how a preacher can’t minister to someone unless he’s experienced the pain. IE, he can’t minister to a felon unless he’s been in prison; he can’t minister to a drug addict unless he’s been addicted first.
“You now. You’ve never seen the bright light from the refrigerator, have you?” he asked me with a challenging look.
I didn’t know if this was a euphemism or a literal statement, so I said no.
“I knew it. It’s when you open the fridge and there’s no food. The light is bright, because nothing’s blocking it.”
I had to admit, that’s nothing that’s ever happened to me.
“Well then, see, how can you help us?”
I smiled. This I knew the answer to. “I’m not trying to help anybody. I’m just here to make pancakes.”
My answer satisfied him.
Because people don’t want to be fixed. They want to be known. After all, what could I, a 40 something middle class white lady, offer him, a black painter living hand to mouth on the street? Nothing but pancakes and conversation. And beneath that, simple respect and acceptance. When I look at him, I see a person, not a status.
And that’s what the Love Wins Community Engagement Center is: a place where everyone is a person first. It’s not about fixing or helping or teaching. It’s about connecting, person to person.