Imagine how it feels to not have a home to go to at night, to not have a bed to call your own, and to not have a place to store your belongings. Imagine long nights on the street, in the rain and in the cold. Imagine not having enough money in your pocket to buy something to eat and not being able to secure a job.
We have a tendency to think that homelessness only happens to other people, to alcoholics, to drug addicts, to the disabled. Homelessness can happen to anyone, even people with a college degree or with a family. We have a tendency to look away when the homeless ask us for money, but they are people just like us, and they deserve to be acknowledged, even if you have nothing to give.
In Mecklenburg County we have over 5,000 homeless neighbors on any given night. Throughout the spring semester, Davidson College’s Better Together campaign volunteered at Room in the Inn—a temporary shelter organized at Davidson College Presbyterian Church every Friday during the winter months. One Friday a month, Better Together volunteers had the chance to meet some of our neighbors face-to-face, and get to know them over shared meals. One Better Together volunteer reflected:
Their journeys left an imprint upon my heart…I don’t view the weekends with the neighbors as merely a service activity any longer, but as an act of worship in which I am constantly learning new ways to find beauty and contentment in the world, especially when people live in such difficult times.
Better Together volunteers not only formed meaningful relationships with our homeless neighbors, but they also got to know one another better as we worked together to set up the beds for the shelter.
Our commitment to take a break from daily activities at Davidson and serve the local homeless population yielded deeper dialogue. Each time we began the weekend with a written reflection on what from our faith calls us to serve. We concluded the weekend by sharing our how our initial motivations transformed throughout our experience together.
As the temperature warmed and Room in the Inn came to a close for the season, Better Together wanted to find another way to help our homeless neighbors. Urban Ministry Center is an interfaith homeless services center in Charlotte, and Artworks 945 is an art studio and gallery at Urban Ministry Center for artists in Charlotte struggling with poverty and homelessness. Artworks 945 provides art materials and helps neighbors sell their art in the community.
Following an Artworks 945 exhibition at Davidson and a joint-talent show between Davidson students and homeless neighbors, Better Together organized Artstock, a benefit concert for Artworks 945 with student musicians and spoken word about poverty and homelessness. Through a bake sale at the event, involving multiple religious organizations on campus, Better Together raised $200 for the Artworks 945 program.
In addition to Artworks 945, Urban Ministry Center houses St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen, which requires 800 sandwiches a day to feed our homeless neighbors. In honor of National Volunteer Week, and in coordination with Davidson’s annual Celebration of Service, Better Together mobilized over 50 students from various faiths and traditions to participate in Operation Sandwich, the making of 800 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the student union during our common hour. All of the materials were donated by Davidson’s Auxiliary Services Department. The energy at the event was contagious. We had more volunteers than we had space at the tables. Next year, Better Together hopes to solicit even more donations and work with multiple soup kitchens in the area.
The Better Together Steering Committee was thrilled to support our homeless neighbors in so many ways this semester. While Room in the Inn allowed for deep, meaningful relationship-building across lines of difference, Artstock and Operation Sandwich allowed Better Together to expand its reach on campus and provide a direct contribution to our homeless neighbors benefitting from services at Urban Ministry Center. Throughout these events, Better Together helped students from different faiths and traditions reflect on our common values, which encourage us to serve side-by-side in an effort to address some of the needs of our local homeless population.
This year at Davidson there has been a lot of debate about the way the college approaches issues of religious diversity. I challenge the Davidson community to respond to this debate by participating in interfaith service opportunities, which allow us to connect across our differences, and build more trusting and respectful relationships while serving our local community.