I work inside of poverty. My job is to make sure that those who the public sees as faceless and nameless individuals are not without representation, and of course, not without meals. I walk into City Hall and Council Chambers with the strongest of intentions, but I also acknowledge the internal battle that happens every time I am stopped at an intersection next to someone holding a sign asking for help. I smile, I nod, I make sure they know that I see them. I pacify myself by knowing that every day, I AM working to insure this person has access to a meal, but I always wonder: how does THAT PERSON know that I am not just nodding and smiling at them and going on my merry way like all of the other thousands of drivers that have passed them that day. How am I serving them by not imparting that knowledge to them, and how selfish am I to want to justify myself to that person, and for what reason? Forgiveness? Acceptance? Camaraderie?
OSL received passive notice last week that the Outdoor Meal Sites location would be needed as a staging area for repairs on I-5 on the weekends for the next 9-17 weeks. No one called us, no one has attempted to work with us to figure out where the 15 meal providers whom this effects are going to serve. This communication was lost in the nebulous “who owns this” “who manages this” “who is supposed to call who” land of bureaucracy. In fact, it was OSL staff who noticed an engineer examining a wall during a meal who had to step forward and ask “What can I help you with?” who got this conversation started. A conversation that probably could have started months ago. Maybe even years.
But the fact is, we all have our jobs. We all smile as we are stopped at the intersection, fighting the internal battle of how we are making any positive change for the PERSON holding a sign and asking for help. The engineer, the scheduler, WSDOT staff, SDOT planners, we all have spent our commute looking through our rain covered windows, reading those signs. It is possible that one of them, or even all of them, wondered as they sat, waiting for the light to change, how the work they planned would effect that person. Or perhaps they all just filed them away as another nameless, faceless person.
You can be sure that the traffic has been planned; the signs have been posted for those who society allows to have a face and a name. If you own a car, you probably have a better idea of how this is going to affect your life than those who rely on this location to meet their basic needs. Because of this construction, the place that this nameless faceless person receives a meal, three times a day, seven days a week, is going to be gone. Was anyone planning on letting us know? Does the ripple effect of each of our actions not apply to those who are doing them as part of their government job? And for OSL, and the 15 other meals provider effected, where are we to go? Were we to just show up a work to find the construction equipment covering our workspace, and just figure it out?
We will. We always do.
The way we do may not be very popular, and it is sure to get a lot more attention. It’s possible that some providers will walk down to City Parks, effecting Parks & Rec, and some providers will just go home, leaving the hundreds of hungry people waiting in line to scramble for their meals. Those who cannot pass a breathalyzer, or refuse to be evangelized in order to receive a meal at the closest providers, may simply go hungry. Perhaps we should just implement a furlough on hunger over the weekends for the next few months. I mean, it really isn’t true that people need to eat EVERYDAY, is it?
On my commute home today, I will pass by the Outdoor Meal Site, and I will smile at the man holding a sign, asking for help. I will know in my heart that I AM attempting to make a positive impact on his life, but at the same time, I cannot tell him where he is going to get his meal on Saturday.
~Kim Jones, Development Director
After many phone calls and questions, OSL was able to work with WSDOT and their crew, and together, we were able to find a resolution to the matter that does not include closing down the Outdoor Meal Site. We are grateful to those who, once aware, walked hand in hand with us to work towards a solution for this matter for our most vulnerable community members
The sentiment and questions posed by the original post remain:
At OSL, it is part of our mission to advocate with and on behalf of those who cannot leverage the power to impact policy. Where is the line between ones “job” and ones duty as a member of the great community? When do we begin to expect that every person is responsible for thinking of how their tasks at work are going to ripple through out the entire pond? This is not an change that not only requires buy in by each individual, but a shift in cultural consciousness.