I was at the house a few days ago when one of our volunteers expressed concerns about the "drastic" changes we are making at the house. I had just reminded her that we would be down to three evening meals a week and four breakfasts come September.
There are many reasons why we are making these changes. I will reiterate them on this blog so that people can have a reference.
Reason #1: Changing Needs. We really see a shift of need in our neighborhood. True, people will always need food. But through the Planning Committee we identified a number of places in our neighborhood providing hot evening meals, lunches and goods from pantries. What we have realized as a greater need than evening meals is shelter for homeless families. One of our goals in the coming years is to shelter families in a way that really lifts the family up from their current situation. This kind of hospitality takes a lot of work. It may not be as immediately gratifying as serving someone hot food, nor does it require the same number of volunteers coming into the homes. But it is still important and necessary work.
Reason #2: Changing staff. We have cut back on meals simply because they are so taxing and time consuming. As Louis will tell you, when the house first opened very few people came to the meals. In the 80's, however, the house saw an influx of hungry people. What used to be a casual evening meal which was prepared as quickly as any meal for a regular household ballooned into the four-hour affair that we know today. And that is just when the house is open. Depending on the menu, Louis will sometimes begin preparing the meal as early as 2 pm. When I cook, I usually start scrubbing potatoes around 2:30. (I like to take my time.)
Unfortunately, none of us are as singly dedicated to the house as Brother Louis is. It is unlikely that we will find another religious brother or sister to live at the house, most of us are young people who see marriage, children or careers of some sort in our future. But I speak for myself when I say that I also see living in a Catholic Worker as part of my future. I am and always will be a Catholic Worker. And so the buzz word is sustainability. How can we make the house a place where an average person can live and work and be healthy? One of the ways we are working on this sustainability is keeping a number of nights open for leisure, community interaction and other interests.
Reason #3: Personalism. We want to take a critical and constructive look at how we are serving meals and our neighborhood. We want our house to be rooted in the personalism Peter Maurin taught us in his lifetime. This means paying real attention to everyone who comes in the door. This means truly being present during meals, eating with the guests, spending time with them. This means the more staff and volunteers we can have at the house at once, the better! We would also like to make the house a safer place to be by addressing the drug and violence issues. Again, these things take a lot of time and energy.
Reason #4: The many facets of the Catholic Worker Movement. Although Holy Family has always been a House of Hospitality, it also has a background in another facet of the Catholic Worker: peacemaking. 912 originally was the headquarters for the Kansas City Peace Foundation. As a Catholic Worker I am interested in all the different aspects of the movement and how they fit together. I am interested in farming, crafting, resistance, publishing, voluntary poverty, war tax resistance, and speaking truth about the "systems and structures" (a Louis phrase) which keep people in poverty. On top of all of that, I am interested in hospitality.
So yes, these changes are drastic. They are jolting people out of what they know, jolting people out of their comfort zone. We are asking you monthly volunteers to step out from behind the silver table and meet the people you have been serving for so long. We are asking weekly volunteers to consider new ways of involvement. We are asking ourselves, "What are we doing here? What are our values and ideals? How can we express them?" We are looking to that old Catholic Worker adage: "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."