Do Free Breakfasts Hurt?
Robert came down the stairs to the fellowship hall with rain drops beaded up on his shoulders and helmet. His hood was tucked inside his chinstrap and skull cap. His wrinkled face was pinched together in a permanent expression of resistance to the weather, or was that to people? It could be to both of the unwanted intruders. He spoke briskly asking to investigate the free clothing tables and select the choice items “before the crowd gets here.” He would remain only long enough to get a couple pairs of jeans and a jacket, and a plate of pancakes, eggs, bacon and ham. Then he was up, out and on his bike heading back to his camp along the Springwater Corridor, a popular bike path in SE Portland. The Springwater has ample blackberry patches, freeway overpasses, a small creek that frequently floods, and various other spots providing seclusion, making it an attractive location for people living outside.
Dane sat quietly, headphones on, chewing on eggs and nodding gently. He pulled his earbuds off when someone sat down at the table and greeted him. A responsive and well mannered late-teen, Dane shared the book he had been reading. The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden is a classic of an earlier generation, but Dane is captivated by it. He pointed out one particular activity instructed by the authors: making a battery out of quarters. Dane is working on his GED through Portland Community College, at the Cascade Campus, in North Portland. It took him 75 minutes, two buses and the MAX (public transit train) to get to SE Portland for our free breakfast. He came because his mom, lives in SE and he is allowed to leave his foster home for visits with his mom.
About 25 people were served breakfast. Eight or ten folks grabbed clothing items. Five people visited the produce and bread table. About 15 volunteers, set up tables and chairs, laid out food boxes for the taking, cooked, filled plates, sorted clothes and/or sat with guests to eat and engage in conversation. But most significant is the fact that friendships were begun.
Volunteers established new relationships with each other. One lady who runs a used clothing distribution center turned up and will now store and set up clothes each month. Helpers from at least three different churches met one another and formed new friendships around caring for others. And, our guests were genuinely loved on.
One nagging thought remains for me though. What contribution were our guests invited to provide? I ask this because it is Second Stories' conviction that true relationship is dependent upon each party being affirmed as a contributor. Everyone has inherent value and dignity because they are created in the image of God. As a tri-une being (three persons in one being), God is relational. His relationality is the most fundamental element of our image bearing. We, too, are relational. But if we follow the pattern of relationality seen among the persons of the Godhead, then our interactions with others must include validating one another's potentials for contribution.
We are not in true relationship when one is simply a recipient and one is provider. This is Second Stories' conviction that makes us ask, in providing food and clothing, how do we validate the latent contribution of the other? Any ideas?