Dr. Bill Atwood

Community meals provide food for thought

Happy New Year - If you happen to follow the Christian calendar the 6th of January marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Epiphany. An epiphany is the moment when something is revealed and causes the onlooker to learn a lesson. Some refer to it as “The ah-ha moment.” It can be that moment when dad takes the keys away or that moment when you realize that PG & E really meant it when they wanted to be paid and turned off your power.

The Christian season of the Epiphany refers to the arrival of the Magi at the manger to honor the birth of the baby Jesus. It was at that time that the birth was revealed to the world of the baby that would grow up and change the world with his teachings.

The Magi were men who may or may not have been kings but they were men who followed two studies of the heavens. They were astronomers as well as being astrologers. In their day the two were combined and those wise men were the ones who explained what was happening in the skies that controlled what happened on the ground. Regardless, the Magi were seen by many if not most as outcasts. Yet they were the ones used to share the Epiphany of the birth of Jesus.

This past month I experienced an epiphany of my own and want to share it with you. Like most of you I am frustrated with the problems of the homeless people that have decided to take up their “non-residence” in our area. I am tired of the problems caused in the park, in local shopping centers, and in parking lots around town. I don’t like the panhandling or the drug problems that come with them. There are programs that seem to try to help but I really haven’t seen much in the way of results that have taken many of those homeless off the streets. It’s is not just frustrating but very frustrating.

However; there is one program that I have been watching of late that I think has taken a little bit of a bum rap because of “brand identification.” I am referring to the Wednesday evening meals that take place at the Methodist Church in Oakhurst. Those meals are touted by many, including the volunteers, as a community meal for the homeless. Frankly I did not want to feed them which I see as enabling them to continue with the negative lifestyle. My attitude was that if we don’t feed them, they won’t stay.

I was troubled by the fact that people I know, admire, and respect were involved in this ministry and frankly could not understand why. Instead of simply condemning their actions as “feel-good” actions I asked them and asked about the Wednesday evening meal program.

One volunteer shared their concerns that they might just be the enabler and causing the problem to continue, but this volunteer told me that they do it each month because of the Bible verse, “That which you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did unto me.” (Matthew 24) - So this wonderful person and the others, are doing the meals to help those less fortunate. They are past the concern of it being enabling or not. They are just feeding hungry people.

Then I asked about why we were so concerned about the homeless here and not doing for those struggling to survive - and that is when I had my epiphany. The Wednesday meals are really not being served to the homeless as the largest percentage of those who come to share in the meal. I went to a meal and saw many people I know and who know me eating there for a number of reasons. Some are the working poor. Hours and wages have been cut and they need a little help to stretch the food budget. Some are lonely. Spouse has died and they enjoy coming together for a meal and the conversation. A few come to be smiling faces for those who come to see some smiles instead of glaring looks of contempt. I believe there were three or four homeless out of a gathering of 50 who attended.

I wanted to share with you that these meals may just be the highlight of the week for those who attend because they are struggling with money or loneliness. I will now think of those meals as the “community meal,” and not the “dinner for the homeless.” In that way we can see the ministry of those who provide the meals as the positive action they are taking for the least of us rather than my old way of thinking as enabling people to stay on the streets.

Who knows what good will come from one of those diners that are helped at these dinners? Today they may feel like an outcast as the Magi did. The community meals program is certainly food for thought. It was quite an epiphany.