The feeling I get when at the Shelter is their lives have become cut-off and adrift. They are living, but not living forward in any substantial way. Some are in recovery and counseling. They are slowly working on getting well and free. A few are fresh out of prison, but have no place to go yet. Others wait for housing, or work that might provide a living wage. Some shelter guests prefer living independently on the street, but come out of the cold for a night or two. Still, they are chronically alone and estranged. Occasionally, we meet someone who is homeless for the first time, afraid, not sure what to do or how they got there. There are many stories, but similar story-lines of loss, disarray and brokenness.
So we show up on a Wednesday night once a month with food we've made, and the opportunity to serve people with it. At imagine, we use food as a way to bless people. We're blessed to have talented folks in our midst (professionally trained and/or naturally gifted), who take food prep, presentation, and quality very seriously because we all want others to enjoy the goodness of God in a meal. We want it to be sumptuous, unexpected and delicious. We want folks in the shelter to delight in the fact we serve them not just what's leftover or what we can throw together on the cheap, but good food, carefully made. We want the guests to feel they matter because of the effort invested on their behalf. We want to surprise them.
We did something similar, but on a larger scale, when we put on FEAST for Easter at the Northampton Center for the Arts a couple of years back. Our motive was the same. I wrote a blog-post about it. In it I said:
I must celebrate God who answered our prayer that his guests would feel special; despite their circumstances, they mattered and he delighted in blessing them on this Day of days. Everyone I spoke with, including guys who referred to their address as "in the woods," was blown away by how they were treated and served. The beauty of the room and how the table was set elegantly, the lavish menu, including desserts you'd find at a 4-star restaurant, and the kindness shown them by the team and volunteers sent a clear message. People were overwhelmed saying things such as: "I've never eaten a meal like this," or "I feel I was treated like a king," or "This is amazing!" He honored our desire to create a good memory for people.
Our serving at the shelter holds the this desire to uncommonly grace these folks in their troubling time of dislocation, disorientation, or resigned despair. We're not over the top with it where people feel uncomfortable, but we want to show them that in Jesus's eyes they are loved more than they know. These "least of these" his brethren, are our brethren too. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. They are his guests.
We serve great food they don't expect, and they are enlivened a little bit. I have been told twice by 2 different Shelter staff that regulars remember and look forward to imagine/Northampton bringing the meal. I hope that's true of others who graciously bring food there also, but finding out we brighten their lives when so much else in their days has gone wrong is warms us. It's nice to give someone something to look forward to when so much they experience is just plain hard.
We want to do far more to help homeless, broken people get unstuck and heading toward who they were meant to be, especially in coming to discover and know this God who is far more than they imagine. Hospitality and delicious food -- something we have been committed to since being here -- is a winsome, fulfilling way to grace people, whether in our homes, Sunday morning, or serving at the shelter. Doing good to others humanizes us, thus softening our hearts to perhaps risk sacrificing more for the "fading away ones" who perhaps can take a step toward coming back into view because of the simple kindness of lasagna well-made for strangers.
May we never lose this desire to delight, enchant and grace people beyond what they expect, or have settled for. A little wonder can work deep into the heart by way of the palate.