By: Huffman Resident, Vicki Morris
We in Huffman are positioned at the intersection of two distinct demographic groups: relatively affluent, upwardly mobile households, with the ability and resources to lovingly restore and preserve homes from the glory days of Dayton’s past, and the reality of neighbors experiencing grinding, abject poverty.
Helping to bridge the gap within the neighborhood is St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at Fourth and Huffman. As a relatively new volunteer in the food pantry, I have come to know the many wonderful programs offered by St. Paul’s, and have quickly discovered that this church is truly a neighborhood treasure in its service to the community.
Food insecurity in our neighborhood appears in many forms, running the gamut from the homeless eating from trashcans, having possibly one hot meal a day from a church or soup kitchen, to those working perhaps two wage-depressed jobs, who manage the rent and utilities but haven’t enough for a month’s worth of food.
These are our neighbors.
And although no one church can either solve poverty and hunger, or offer all services to all people, St. Paul’s can stand with great dignity, knowing that every day, at least for that moment, they help relieve the pain and misery of poverty in our corner of Dayton.
The food pantry serves only a portion of 45403. Each individual, or family unit, may visit the pantry but once a month, and identification and verification of address is entered into a database for future reference. Yet the pantry serves about 900 people a month, dispensing over two tons of food weekly.
For me, interaction with those who come to the food pantry has been its own reward, and I have learned so much. For instance:
The willingness of those currently without work to help each other with whatever training or skills they have, from haircuts and manicures to a man who, with his sewing machine, makes curtains for those who would otherwise have sheets hanging at their windows.
That the struggle to simply survive is apparent at every turn. “Employers” who exploit and take advantage, landlords indifferent to malfunctioning plumbing or a broken stove or refrigerator, are some of the burdens brought to St. Paul’s every day. And they respond with as much help as a small church can muster.
I’ve learned that the often rough, combative attitude used as a daily defense by those on the streets seems to melt into a much gentler, more grateful demeanor within the safe confines of the church. I have found it helpful and instructive to witness this side of those whom we usually encounter as caustic, mean-spirited and destructive. A reminder that few people are all bad.
The homeless are as varied as any segment of the population. A veteran, so scarred and haunted by the experience of war, can no longer live indoors, because combat has seared his soul in ways we may never comprehend. A soft-spoken former electrical engineer who has no family. Subsequently, after a stroke left him unable to work, it was a short road to homelessness. He’s out of his element and finds the shelters too rough and intimidating, so he tries to find unobtrusive and sheltered places to sleep. Many others lack the most basic skills for employment, even if jobs were available, which they are not. And lack of basic skills so often leads to desperation, and desperation, sadly, often leads to anti-social behavior. We are all witness to that outcome on a regular basis. Another lesson learned is that we tend to judge others by our own capabilities. I have quickly come to realize the options and problem solving skills I enjoy, take for granted, and make my life better, are not applicable to those living in a completely different world.
And still, St. Paul’s soldiers on…feeding the hungry, offering comfort, counsel, and the possibility of another day.