Monday, April 11, 2011
Thing 363 Soup Run
Alright, let's not get all wrapped up in serious here, and I'm not about to start making sweeping dramatic statements and indulging in stupidity (that is to say any worse stupidity than that which you're normally used to), but things have changed since I spent a night sleeping rough. It was only one night, but like I said before, it upset me, and like Red out of Shawshank Redemption said: "You get busy living or you get busy dying". Dammit - is there nothing Morgan Freeman can't teach us?
So I decided to get busy. McGarry House, and it's sister house the Brother Russell House are shelters for the homeless run by an organistation called Novas. They're what's commonly known as "low-threshold" hostels, which means that they tend to take in a large number of residents that other hostels won't take. They also have no closing time, no curfew and they never expel anyone permanently. They don't believe in that last one, because they always believe that people are worth another chance.
I think they might actually be living saints. Considering my appalling excess, and the general assholery of me and assorted companions (I'm not going to name names, you know who you are... Pony Boy...). These people would just put us to shame, and then be really nice about it.
Another part of what what they do is the Soup Run. You can see them, three days a week outside what used to be Ferguson's Chemist on O'Connell Street in Limerick with plastic bins full of sandwiches, taytos, cup-a-soups, chocolate bars, tea and coffee. They just stand there and wait for anyone who needs a meal. They tried walking around to find homeless people but it wasn't working out, so they just put the word out and asked others to come to them. They'll stroll a couple of blocks here and there to spots that they know some people are sleeping or hanging out and they'll bring what they can carry.
I went on the soup run yesterday, got a look inside the two houses as well. This Thing is a kind of a two-sided coin. On the one hand, the awful poverty and desperate conditions that some people are reduced to living in is frightening. The indignity they suffer, and the desperation, sometimes loud, but mostly all to quiet is heartbreaking to see. On the other hand, the care, compassion and dedication of the workers and volunteers in the homes, and the affection with which they're held by their clients would melt your heart.
I had a theory a few weeks ago, that the hunger and the coldness on the streets was matched at least by the indignity of being ignored. That as much as food and cigarettes were wanted, and needed, acknowledgement and a kind word would go just as far in the eyes of the people who have to live this kind of life. I think I was right.
One of the clients came to us last night crying, he'd had enough. He didn't want to live on the street anymore. He wanted another chance. Annette and Sinead calmed him down, got him a hot cup of soup, and Sinead went about making calls to see could she find him a place for the night (both houses were full). He didn't know me, had never met me before, so he asked, awkwardly if I minded him staying with me for a chat. Of course I told him. He was delighted. So we chatted. Every so often he'd cry quietly, but mostly, we chatted in a nice way.
Others started turning up, shaking hands when they'd stroll over. Hot sausages wrapped in tinfoil would be stowed in pockets for later. Sandwiches eaten with a cup of tea and a chat. All the time as grateful for the company as the food and something hot to drink. After a little while my first new friend had relaxed enough and a few of us were talking about music... a sing song broke out. Trust me to find a sing song on the street.
For about and hour and a half we waited there. Some came, took the food and left, but not many, in fact, I think there was only one who did that. The rest came for something to eat and stayed to talk. They talked a little about how life is tough, but mostly about everything else from music to books, to food and everything in between. Like I say, a double sided coin - I couldn't decide if I wanted to be heart warmed or heart broken.
So that's the start of my career as a volunteer. Long may it last.
P.S. On a much lighter note, an infinitely lighter note, I'm gonna lash out a few buckets to collect for McGarry House on Thursday night. It's my party (and I'll cry if I want to) at O'Connell's at The Old Quarter on Ellen Street in Limerick from seven. Consider yourself invited.