How often do you hear this question at work when some issue or concern goes unresolved for an extended period? Procrastination or neglect can often make the resolution of these concerns both time-consuming and expensive; but it happens over and over.
With the weather improving here in the Chicago area where I live, one of the things I see more and more of are the homeless. Not everyone who looks down and out or is asking for spare change is homeless, but in Chicago we have about 4,646 individuals who stay in shelters each night. There’s another 1,243 that are un-sheltered. And each night there are 661 families who seek shelter as well.
So what does homelessness have to do with leadership, the usual focus of my writing?
Well, I’m going to tie both concepts together out of concern for these folks who are largely down on their luck and to share the story of someone who actually has done something about it. Due to her efforts, more than 101,000 people receive meals each year and 2,500 families can “shop” weekly at a Fresh Market for foodstuffs for their families.
That’s right, one person has been responsible for 101,000 people getting nourishment each year.
The woman behind this is Arloa Sutter and she created Breakthrough Urban Ministries, who collectively serve those 101,000 every year.
Through sheer force of will she has created a women’s shelter, a men’s shelter and the family center, all located in the Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Arloa is the author of The Invisible: What the Church Can Do to Find and Serve the Least of These. It’s a wonderful read and shows how one woman has led a movement here in the Chicago area that is truly doing something about the fact that over 600,000 people seek shelter each night in America, 25% of those being children.
I’m proud to say that I help to serve 12 of those 101,000 meals per year. We have a group of about seven of us who rotate in and out of serving a meal at the men’s shelter on the first Monday of every month – and we’ve done so for 11 years in a row.
I apologize if you think this is just a big pat on my own back, but my purpose is to let you know that the reason we keep at this is because we enjoy it on multiple levels. I would encourage anyone who is so inclined to seek out opportunities in their cities, but here are a few observations over these 11 years.
- If you’re going to do this on a regular basis, select a meal that you would like to eat and serve them each month. Often groups spend a lot of time and energy trying to come up with the latest and greatest recipes or meal plans when in fact our experience has been that these folks are just hungry and they want a good meal, not a special one.
- We serve about 40 people a month and we have meatballs, pasta, tomato sauce, green beans, a fresh salad, fresh garlic bread and ice cream for dessert. I always say to the gentleman before we start to serve that if anyone goes hungry that night, it’s their fault.
- Having a consistent meal makes it easy to divide up among your team who purchases what so we can assemble the full meal. It’s not that expensive for any individual.
- I send out an email each month to remind everyone and we usually get a decent contingent to make the meal happen. We can prepare and serve this meal for up to 40 people in a little over one hour. But we have been doing it for 11 years.
- Once we serve the guests, we grab a plate and sit down and chat with the folks. If you’ve heard of the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I”, that’s what you hear when these fellows share their stories. It gives a completely different perspective about the challenges and issues of folks that become homeless. I have stories.
- One of the best things about these Mondays are getting together with this great group of guys and we chat about everything under the sun. We have a bond and we do good work. What’s not to like?
Opportunities to serve like this don’t come around that frequently but you’d be surprised at the need out there. So, if you find yourself asking the question, “Why won’t somebody do something about…???”, consider:
- Have I sought out opportunities to serve?
- Are there a group of friends or acquaintances that I could share this experience with? (By the way, our team has had about 20 people that have rotated in and out over the years)
- Remember, you get so much more than you actually give.