Outreach at the United Church on Michigan

By Rita Button

Photo by Rita Button.

Photo by Rita Button.

This morning I joined the group at the top of the ramp leading to the office at the United Church on Michigan. Tuesday morning at 9 am—I was actually early, but not too early for Sylvia, Eunice and Dan who were already in the kitchen preparing food for neighbours who often come for a continental breakfast on Tuesday morning. As people came into the kitchen, I noticed the familiar feeling of family, so I knew for sure, I was at the United Church since I had experienced exactly the same feeling when I talked to the Thrift Shop people a few weeks ago.

Tuesday mornings, Sylvia, Eunice, Dan, and Heather— people from the church welcome the community into the kitchen to enjoy coffee, a continental breakfast and conversation which often instigates laughter. This morning, toasted English muffins with a choice of toppings—usually cream cheese, but Jared chooses peanut butter and jam—are on the menu.

This morning, Sylvia makes the coffee—usually it’s Dan, they say, adding that Dan’s coffee is really good. But today, Dan is in charge of distributing food which is lined up in neat rows on one of the pews in the church. Sylvia had also made the cookies that are arranged on a plate, waiting to be devoured, and while we wait for people to join us, they assure me that Eunice makes the best ham as well as egg salad sandwiches in the world. Too early for sandwiches this morning, but the conversation is interesting and fun.

It’s an easy atmosphere! We all feel that we belong in this community, sharing the worries and joys of those in the room. “What would you like?” asks Sylvia, and then she and Eunice prepare the food. While they wait for the toaster to pop up the English muffin, Dan invites each person individually into the church to choose three items to take along for later. Sylvia has told me that they have asked those who frequent Tuesday’s breakfasts, what they would like. This list of “likes” becomes the grocery list for Tuesday’s Outreach. The money for these groceries come from the Thrift Shop’s profits.

None of the food that’s given on Tuesday mornings requires an oven. That’s another of the requirements in choosing the food for those who need a hand up. And the way the food is given seems natural and respectful—partly because people know each other, and remember pieces of lives that were shared previously. If socks, sleeping bags or shoes are needed, the Thrift Shop provides. It’s what neighbours do.

The people in the kitchen talk about the garbage that was left behind a few days ago, and consider ways of dealing with it. When Bob comes in, they ask him how his search for an apartment is going, and they talk about a rule that one building has which won’t allow people who are sick to stay there. “How can a sick person find a place to live when a healthy person has a lot of trouble finding an affordable spot?” they wonder.

They also are amazed at the $88.00/day pay that some people can get on a construction site, but then someone adds, “Out of that money, you have to pay for the safety equipment If you don’t have it. That takes a bite out of the $88.00. And it’s really hard work.” But someone adds that maybe when those in charge see that a person is a reliable, good worker, a different job might be offered.

The conversation continues. They wonder about Eunice’s holiday. “So you did miss me!” she cries delightedly. And they smile sheepishly, but no less genuinely. They wonder how long Sylvia will be gone since she’s been talking about Heathrow and the joy of having her niece accompany her on her journey to the UK.

People come and go, each one enjoying the food that is served. Some wonder what I am doing there, noticing the thick notebook in which I am scribbling. “Are you writing a book?” they want to know. “No, I’m writing an article about what a great place this is and how nice all of you are,” I tell them.

It is. And they are.

Holy Currencies, a term the people at the Thrift Shop use to describe the different ways people profit from the culture they have nurtured and grown is the gold standard of these activities. It’s based on openness, respect and concern which fosters an environment of abundance and generosity, and it’s in the kitchen every Tuesday morning.

Chances are, it becomes a part of each person’s day, for the generosity and friendship of the morning will encourage new conversations and connections throughout the day

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