Saturday morning we got up around 6am, threw our stuff in our packs and immediately started walking toward the UT campus. The University Methodist Church down on The Drag serves a breakfast on Saturday mornings for the homeless and by the time we got there at 7am folks were already lining up.
There were people of all ages and races waiting in line. Also several people in wheelchairs or on crutches, and a few kids. (By the time we got inside the door around 9am there were at least 100+ people lined up.) The UMC community really does a wonderful job with this breakfast. You go in and they have rows of tables to sit down where it’s warm, and then a long line of people serving you as you walk by. They also had a table of free food that people could take with them if they wanted–day old breads, some produce, etc. I was very touched that they even arranged for a guy come in play the piano for us while we were eating.
The food was great–home cooked and nutritious– and it included oatmeal, fruit, toast, cereal, quesadillas, veggies, and lots of additional stuff like peanut butter, salsa and syrup to fix up your food. They gave out tokens during the breakfast and called people by number to go pick out donated clothing and shoes from the ‘clothing shop’ they’d set up in another room.
After breakfast, my friend and co-worker Bruk Keener arrived. Bruk and his wife Robin lived on the streets for years–and now they are both living in a comfortable home with their beautiful little daughter. Bruk works full time at Mobile Loaves & Fishes and he is an invaluable resource for providing us practical knowledge of what our homeless friends are dealing with as we try to serve them.
When Bruk arrived, my mind was immediately put to rest. He and Robin showed up at the church, brought me an Army-issue backpack and sleeping bag that they still had from their own street days, and told me to stick with him for the rest of the weekend. Just having someone who knows the ropes of street life there to show you the way makes all the difference in the world. For the next two days Bruk not only helped me stay safe, but showed us all how to panhandle and gave us a crash course in dumpster diving.
We didn’t leave the church until around 11am and headed back to Downtown. Around 2pm we all met at the library and sat around outside discussing what we’d experienced so far. A couple of the Notre Dame kids got totally separated from the rest of us and this was the first time we’d seen them since we first got Downtown. They said the previous night was the scariest night of their lives–and it included almost getting peed on by drunken frat boys and sharing their freezing cold camp under a bridge with an opossum.
By 6pm we’d collected enough money panhandling that we were able to get us all a cup of coffee, and then we all went to Cozzoli’s downtown and cut a deal with them. We showed them how much money we had on us, and they worked with us to feed our group. When we were done eating it was around 7pm and I was so tired. But it still wasn’t time to turn in for the night. We spent almost three more hours trying to panhandle for money for breakfast the next day.
By the time we got back to St. Mary’s it was around 11pm. I had been walking for almost 17 hours that day. My feet were hurting so badly I felt like crying. This time, I climbed into the sleeping bag Bruk and Robin and let me borrow and the difference between it and the one I was in the night before was astounding. I was SO much warmer, although my feet were aching so badly it was hard to sleep at first. Then, I passed out.