breakfast and blessings at Nickelsville
“Homeless people are not bad people…”
A simple sentiment, handwritten on a sheet of college-ruled binder paper, part of an article/testimonial by M, one of the residents of Nickelsville. “I just want people to know that we’re not that different from them,” she would explain to me over breakfast…
Oh right… breakfast. Last Saturday, a group of us had the opportunity to provide a meal for the folks living at Nickelsville, an organized, self-regulated encampment currently located at the Byrn Mawr United Methodist Church in South Seattle. Nickelsville came about as as a response to Seattle’s programs which were failing to meet the needs of the homeless. Instead of transitional and temporary shelters, Nickelsville provides a sense of stability… a safe place with rules against alcohol and drugs, with 24-hour security, with people committed to the vision of the community. For more information on Nickelsville, see this article on CNN.com.
The idea for the breakfast was born of an annual project by our church to think of ways to be a “good neighbor.” This year, a small group of us decided to reach out to the Nickelsville community and see if we could provide them with a warm pancake breakfast. They graciously accepted, and our planning began.
But how do you make a pancake breakfast for 75 people, without cooking facilities on-site? All of the cooking would have to be done beforehand, and hopefully kept warm in serving tins. We split up into teams, and somehow managed to cook 300 pancakes, 320 strips of bacon and 240 links of turkey sausage, and meet up at the site at 8:30 a.m. with two huge tubs of hot coffee (thanks to a little Seattle boutique coffee maker) and some fresh fruit.
The bacon and sausage disappeared with impressive speed, hot coffee (some sipped, some quaffed) bringing warmth on a lightly chilly morning. Even more striking, though, was the warmth with which the Nickelodeons (as they call themselves) opened their community to us, welcomed us to be among them, and engaged us with real, human interaction. Collectively, we heard dozens of stories of struggle and hardship… but even stronger was the sense of pride, hope and dignity running through the community. This is a group of people with purpose and intention.
On one level, I absolutely agree with M—the folks at Nickelsville aren’t that different at all. These were folks I could talk to and joke around with, whose weathered hands I could shake, whose smiles warmed my soul… individuals who have hit upon hard times, some the victims of circumstances wholly out of their control… circumstances that would have crushed my spirit. And then I realize that maybe we’re not that similar… that, in fact, these folks have been through far more than I could ever bear—hard core drug addiction, unresolvable medical situations, violence, loneliness—and somehow come through those challenges with a positive glow of hope and satisfaction in each day’s triumphs. We came to try and give them some food and encouragement; I left feeling like the one who was fed and encouraged.
“Would you pull M (her husband) aside and pray for him?” she asked me gently, squinting as the sun began to pierce though the clouds. “He’s doing well, but you know, it’s tough…”
It would be my pleasure, absolutely.
For another perspective on the morning, read this excellent post by KS.