January’s Social Justice Plate Collection benefits Teen Feed. Congregants donated over $3,500 last Sunday! The congregation’s generosity funds the work of UUC’s Meal Team — to prepare and serve 18 meals each year. With about 1,000 homeless teens in King County, the need is great.
UUC’s Meal Team is an example of intergenerational justice work. The Meal Team volunteers span five decades, from 14 through 65. And, 8 are teens. Last Sunday, Max and Sam Levy, who have been volunteering for the past two years, shared their experiences. Read their testimony below, and find out how their involvement with Teen Feed deepened their understanding about the teens facing homelessness, and themselves.
For me homelessness is not a problem, it is a person, twenty to forty of them all waiting to be fed on a Sunday night in the U District. The first time I volunteered I remained quiet, and the only thing I said was “Do you want an enchilada?” I was withdrawn and shy because I was afraid to judge and to be judged: “Look at that privileged white guy.” I couldn’t imagine creating connections with people different than I am but they didn’t let the differences stop them. For example, one man came in sunburned on his face, he mentioned that he had been walking in Golden Gardens and hadn’t eaten in two days. I run the same trails in Golden Gardens that the man likely walked. Now, after two years of hearing their stories I greet the teenagers with a smile on my face. I ask them how their day went and how they are doing. My view of homelessness changed because after time my view of the homeless changed. They face challenges that I can’t begin to imagine but I’ve learned that there are small things that we share which leads me to believe we have more in common than what divides us. This is an important part of social justice, to turn the overwhelming number of 11,000 homeless people into a multitude of faces, and from that multitude, to focus on one face in front of me, holding an empty plate.
Homelessness is such a big issue, that it can be overwhelming to try to imagine how I could have any sort of impact. There have been teens who I’ve seen every time I’ve volunteered in the past two years. One of them is a girl whose makeup is dark and smeared. She looks strung out, tired, and jaded. Seeing her every month in some ways can be discouraging as it can seem like nothing’s changing. It can feel like the hot meal we provide is just a temporary solution to one of many problems she faces. I sometimes think that this problem is too big.
However, I can’t live my life focusing on the immensity of the problem as it would paralyze me. I have to remember that of the 11,000 people without homes in King County, these teenagers are among them. And they are hungry and I can serve them.
For every teen I see repeatedly, there are always those who I never see again. The man who came in wearing a dress shirt and tie who told us as we dished up his plate that he was just hired. A pregnant women who was due soon, and an outgoing transgender women who we saw a few times and then never saw again. I worry about those I see every month, and I worry about those I never see again. But within this worry there is hope. The hope that a hot meal helps the strung out girl survive another day. And the hope that the people who never returned to Teen Feed made it off the streets and are no longer hungry. Social justice is built upon hope and human connection. We must be careful not to become disheartened by the magnitude of issues like homelessness. Individually each of us has the power to improve a homeless person’s life and collectively we have the power to change society.