Feeding Body and Soul on Skid Row

We just hosted a Feeding Summit at Union Rescue Mission. I was amazed at the big crowd and the interest and passion for this opportunity. The room was filled with people from all walks of life, who have a passion for making sure each and every person on Skid Row is fed.

The event was sponsored by the Central City East Association, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, LAPD, and the Los Angeles Central Provider’s Collaborative, of which Union Rescue Mission is a part of. Usually, when you meet on a potentially controversial issue, things don’t go so well, but, as various leaders from the city, environmental services, the police, the business association, the health department, and area agencies spoke, their message was received very positively. Issues were raised concerning feeding on the streets everyday: trash left behind, folks being fed without facilities to wash their hands, proper preparation of food, not linking those fed to services. Surprising to me at least, the many groups who feed on the streets readily accepted the admonitions and spoke up to their willingness to partner with Missions and others to make sure that all of these issues were remedied.

I was given the opportunity to share my own story; how I preached 6 messages regarding Matthew 25:31-46 and taught my students the importance of caring for a hungry person.

Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I shared with the Feeding Summit crowd that after delivering that message to my students, I was approached by a hungry, homeless man. When he asked for my sandwich, I had turned him down. I realized then what a hypocrite I was and tracked him down a few weeks later. I then fed him and was invited to begin working at a downtown rescue mission in Des Moines, Iowa. That was 22 years ago. I have been trying to practice what I preached since that time.

After beginning work at the downtown mission in Iowa, I realized that men like the one I fed were not utilizing the mission. I went out on my motorcycle with sandwiches and hot chocolate, sharing it with the men under the bridges and in abandoned buildings. I then invited the men to move into the mission. People said that folks had made a choice to live on the streets and that I should leave them alone. I responded that if a man had made a choice to live under a bridge in Des Moines, Iowa, where it can get down to 20 below zero, that it was a choice made out of hopelessness and really no choice at all.

My time of going out on the streets and seeing men move into the mission proved my point. We fed one man 32 Saturday nights in a row before he finally moved into the mission. My mentor caught me early as I went out with hot chocolate and sandwiches. “If we are going to do this,” Chaplain EE Peters said, “Let’s do it first class with a van, hot food, including BBQ chicken, and a team of volunteers.” For several years we went out on Saturday nights, one night a week. Our philosophy was, and still is, that a nice dinner served with dignity makes a big impact and statement of love. Taking a dinner out every night tells someone to continue living in misery, wait here, and we will bring your food to you. That is still our approach.

Every hot day over 85 degrees in downtown, Union Rescue Mission takes cold, bottled water out onto the streets. We do it out of love to make a statement of love and provide an impact to the receiver. We see it as a tool to build relationships and good will, to help folks make a decision to move into the Union Rescue Mission.

This is the approach we shared at the Feeding summit: If we are going to feed, let’s all do it first class. Provide the food in a way that promotes hygiene and affirms dignity; let’s all clean up after ourselves and don’t add litter to a growing trash problem on Skid Row. Serve the food from a Mission or in a way that provides connection and relationships with a service provider in the community. Pretty simple and well received. We are now working together to make it happen. It was a good day.
~Andy B.

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