Saturday, May 7, 2016

Winter and It´s Effect on Our Community

Enrique Paredes Gebhard

Once the holiday season began and the weather was getting cold, everybody knew winter was coming. I have heard a lot of crazy stories about the winter in Chicago. Former volunteers told me that here it got the coldest they ever felt. Negative degree weather where water you pour out of the window freezes before it hits the ground and bursts. I thought they were kidding but this city taught me better. 
Tim & Konny enjoy walk on the frozen lake.

In early winter we had a lot of visitors so it was never boring and we were especially excited to spend Christmas with our guests at work. Nobody cared about cold weather. We enjoyed sitting in the living room at night spending time with each other, playing games, or watching a movie. This time really connected us and built the friendship we have now.

A snowy bean.
And don´t forget the  many outdoor activities Chicago has to offer during the wintertime. Downtown is beautiful covered in snow, creating many beautiful pictures. Even though we wanted to skate on the ice rink in Millennium park, it never worked out so therefore we liked walking in the snow, doing a round in our neighborhood and through the actual wicker park. Some of our girls, who were originally from the South, hadn’t seen much snow and their excitement spread to the rest of us who are pretty used to snow every winter. Spontaneously we decided to take a walk during the first snow of the year. Everybody who was home joined.

After the new year started it got extremely cold for a couple of days in a row. None of us ever left the building if not for going to work. We were even seeing our guests coming in with frostbite throughout the day. I have no idea how anybody can survive every day and every night in a cold like this since some of them still didn’t want to go to shelters. On very cold days the city of Chicago called the shelters to take everybody in who comes and some times they are even open as warming centers during the day.

Emily, Tim, & I on one of the first snows of the season.
The longer the winter lasted the more tired I got from it. And I can tell that for my community mates it wasn’t any better. The time people spent in community space got less and less. As an effect of their work and sleep schedules, the shelter people were getting especially tired since they never saw the sunlight.

Luckily in the beginning of march the weather changed abruptly. We had minus degrees the one day and on the next we had temperatures in the 60s. At this time, the community started warming up again and everybody was excited for the warm weather to come. On my birthday Chicago decided to send me the sun and the highest temperatures so far which was my favorite gift that day. But you cannot depend on the Chicago weather during the end of winter and beginning of spring. Not even on the weather forecast. It get´s really crazy when you have all four seasons on just one day. Walking in a t- shirt the one moment because of 60 degrees and the next hour you have to stay inside because it´s snowing.

Still you can feel that the warm weather is coming and I am excited to go on bike rides again or just play frisbee in the park with my friends as Chicago is coming out of its hibernation and starting to get alive. None of us will ever forget the winter of Chicago with the craziness we experienced and the time we had to get closer to each other.

The full community at the Christkindlmarket.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Day in the Life: Shelter Edition

Emily Davis

Overwhelmed. Disconnected. Afraid. Inadequate.

These are all things I felt in my first days at the Franciscan House of Joseph and Mary. However, these feelings only lasted for a few weeks as I was getting acquainted to my new home and looking back I feel silly for even feeling like I wouldn’t fit in. Franciscan House has captured my heart and I don’t believe it will ever let go.
Me on the outside of the shelter. 

Each day around 5pm, I pack my dinner and head to work. As a night shift worker, my days normally begin around 3pm as I prepare for work and my shift begins at 5:30. For the first hour, I prepare my mind, body, and soul – as well as the dorm, for the ladies. I read the log book so I am up to date on what has gone on in my absence, I lay out clean linen and make sure all of the hygiene supplies are fully stocked. Once I am finished with these tasks, I relax until 6:30 when my job fully starts.

At 6:30, the role call for the ladies begins. And I do my best to greet them with the warmth that cold Chicago winters are lacking. I give them any hygiene products they need to prepare themselves for a good night’s sleep and I answer any questions they might have. Check in is usually complete by 6:45pm. If any of the ladies are joining us for the first time, I explain a few of the rules and routines of the dorm before they grab dinner. Once they are finished with dinner, I perform a brief intake interview and explain all of the rules of the shelter. Once dinner ends at 7pm, I spend the next hour and a half hanging out with my new family. Some ladies go to bed early, some mingle with their friends, and others use this time just to chill out from a long day. Honestly this is my favorite time with the ladies. When I first met them, they were very hesitant to share anything with me – it took some time to warm up. Now, they share so much and I feel so privileged to be able to share stories with them. I love hearing about their joys and their sorrows; comforting them when the load is heavy and celebrating with them when life brings a surprise joy.  Some days 8:30 comes too quickly and others it comes right on time. After all these ladies have been outside all day, they need to rest.

From 8:30pm to 5 am the lights in the dorm are off and I sit at the desk to watch over the dorm and make sure everyone has a peaceful night.  Depending on the night, this could mean comforting someone who has had a night terror or just sitting alone while the women sleep. Some nights I will talk with 5 women throughout the night, while others I talk to no one. Some nights time flies and on others it crawls. Each night is different.  The night shift can be brutal, but it is completely worth it to spend the time I do with the ladies. I get to share a very intimate space with these women; protecting them while they sleep.

Christmas Eve
Once the lights come on in the morning, I help one of the volunteers set up breakfast, I help any ladies who were on 1-night beds gather their linen for laundry, and I do any other things that might need to be done so that the ladies are fully prepared for the day ahead of them.  Breakfast begins at 5:15 am and then the ladies have until 6:30 am to gather their things and head out. Just as the nights vary, so do the mornings. Some days I feel like I am working with mute zombies; others the energizer bunny. Mornings can be filled with tears, frustration, laughter, or silence. But this is true of all of us. Sometimes we wake up on the right side of the bed, but any given day it was the wrong. What truly amazes me about these women is that the majority of days they wake up with smiles. They do not let their circumstances turn them into monsters. Of course they have bad days, but we all do. For the most part these women continue to inspire me everyday.

I am so grateful for them and the many things that they have taught me throughout this year. I am not the same person I was when I got here; they have all changed me in so many ways. Tina has taught me incredible kindness and to let go of judgment. She sees people with the eyes of love; her world must be so beautiful. Jessica has taught me the importance of silent support and strength in great struggle. She was very sick in the time that she stayed at the shelter, however she never showed anyone that side of her. She never let her illness turn her into an ugly person. She kept persevering and caring for others before herself.  Alex is a fighter – so independent and strong. She took responsibility for herself and decided that she would do whatever it took to rebuild her life after so many things had fought to destroy it. Maria teaches me about hope and optimism. Janelle teaches me about loyalty and strength. Heather teaches me about true love for others and the lack of importance in material things. Casey helps me to grow in patience and teaches me about the importance of support and love. Dana continually shows me the face of God and the love of Christ. Katherine constantly reminds me of the importance of sharing our burdens, so they don’t become crippling. Layne shares such great joy! Polly has a great sense of humor. Liana protects me. Joy and Kathy support me. And finally, Ms. Victoria! She is the definition of a dream come true! She makes the dorm so bright and lively. She dances, she sings, she laughs, and she loves. But what she really taught me was that we all carry something that makes life harder, but it cannot be an excuse to neglect others. She is carrying an incredible mental illness that made it very difficult for her to relate to others, however not once did I ever see her ignore the needs of others. She really took care of all the ladies through small acts of kindness. These ladies have the most beautiful way of simultaneously supporting and challenging me. I thought I was hired to take care of them, but what I have come to realize is that they are the ones caring for me. I could not ask for a better place to work. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Christmas at the Marquard

Katherine Pashkevich

Two nights before Christmas, all of us volunteers were able to gather together at the home of Steph J, our community assistant. As we were all seated around the table after dinner, someone suggested we go around and share our favorite Christmas memory. It was so special to hear everyone’s unique stories and traditions and to be able to share mine, as well. Thinking back on that night now, after Christmas has passed, I know that years down the road when I am again asked to share my favorite Christmas memory, Christmas at the Marquard will be at the top of my list.

Holiday wishes from a few of our guests.
On Christmas Eve, I was hanging out in the lobby with our guests during dinner. I didn’t expect to feel this way, but it was really difficult for me to be around all of my new friends on this joyous holiday. My heart hurt for them – that they had nowhere else to go, no family, no traditions, no presents waiting under the tree. Of course, I was so happy to see them at the Marquard, but really, it was heartbreaking to know that Christmas was just another day in their routine. Especially on a holiday that we all have such rich memories of, it was incredibly frustrating to realize that many of our guests cannot say the same. Needless to say, I was pretty upset for the rest of the evening.

Some of the community had decided that we would go to midnight mass later that evening. It was during Christmas mass that I finally found some consolation for the feelings of despair I had felt earlier in the day. We began to sing “Away in a Manger,” a song I have always loved, but which carried a whole new meaning when I heard it this time. The lyrics of this song consumed my thoughts throughout mass and reminded me that our God is a God of the poor. The story of Christ’s birth is a story of poverty. He was born into a family that did not come from wealth. He was born in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. During his ministry, Jesus chose the company of the poor. The truth is: if Jesus were walking around on earth today, he would come to the Marquard; these would be his people. Jesus has a special place in his heart for the poor – for those without food, money, homes, or family. He empathizes with our sufferings and our limitations. Christmas is a season especially for those who are having a difficult time in the world. It is a time when we celebrate God’s coming to earth and becoming weak for us so that we might grow stronger. Christmas is a season of hope.

Modeling our new Christmas pajama pants :)
So, even though I was away from family and went without traditions, this Christmas – more than any other Christmas I’ve experienced – truly felt the most like Christmas. So often, the idea of Christmas is completely absorbed by consumerism, leaving little room to think about much else. However, Christmas at the Marquard has changed my views on the holiday and my ideals for how I want to celebrate Christmas in the future. Christmas is not about asking for more and waiting for these new gifts to fulfill our desires. Rather, Christmas is about being aware of what we already have, being thankful for the blessings in our lives, enjoying the people God has planted in our lives, and giving hope to those who cannot do the same.

I have to admit that this was the hardest Christmas I’ve had to face. But I can also say, without a doubt, that Christmas at the Marquard is my new favorite Christmas memory. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Giving Thanks

Stephanie Kuipers

With Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas fast approaching, we’ve reached the time of year where we're all called to reflect on what we’re thankful for. When you’re working with people who have less than you do, it’s not hard to come up with answers to that question. I’m obviously lucky to have been born into the stable situation that I was, and I’m lucky that so far, I haven’t faced any major threat to that stability.

Scotty making coffee for our guests.
But, even though there's certainly nothing wrong with being thankful for what I have, I’ve always hoped that my service experience would be more than just a fuel for my gratitude about my own life. It would somehow feel cheap if the guests were merely reminders to me of how thankful I am for my privilege. And it’s worked out so far, because they are much more than that.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been touched by the thoughtfulness of the people I serve here. Helping me carry loads of laundry up the stairs, asking me if I’m okay as I awkwardly try to de-escalate a conflict, surprising me with a candle on my birthday, gladly serving dinner with us when we’re short on part-time volunteers – these are just a few examples of the compassion I experience daily, even when I do little to earn it.

I used to be taken aback to see this kindness from our guests. Then I realized that my surprise revealed my own false assumptions about people living in poverty. If I were without a home, or struggling to take care of myself and my family, or spending days with people passing me by in the street – if I was in survival mode – I always thought I wouldn’t have any emotional capacity left to empathize with strangers. If I ate at a soup kitchen, I imagined that the staff working there would be the last thing on my mind, so I assumed it would be the same for the people I serve. But guests continually show me how wrong I was, how much they do think about us. I talk about “the people I serve,” but they serve me at least as much as I serve them, and in ways that go deeper than supplying food and clothes.

The other full-time volunteers that I work and live with are likewise impactful, and I can’t write about thankfulness without mentioning them. I love being part of a community that cares about our guests at least as much as I do. Seeing my fellow volunteers consistently handle difficult situations with patience and compassion makes it easier for me to do the same. Struggling through the gray areas that come with working in emergency services is less overwhelming when others are there to process it with you. That’s not to say there are never any challenges that come with living in a house full of 11 people. But if it weren’t for our community, I have no doubt that the year would be much harder for me than it is.

Thanksgiving community night.

That is what I’m thankful for: all of the beautiful human beings I’ve met here. And I could still go on to include former volunteers who continue to be a support network for us, or staff members who make us feel welcomed and valued, or part-time volunteers who donate their time and meals to the kitchen. It turns out that the most powerful part of this experience is simply the people it brings into your life, and I know I’ll continue to be thankful for that long after the year ends.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Day in the Life: Kitchen Edition

Katie Bauser

The Marquard Soup Kitchen…a place where not only people go to get a meal, shower, or laundry, but also to see familiar faces and feel welcomed and cared about. Working in the soup kitchen is a blessing that I wish everyone could experience. We not only get to provide services to our guests, but get to know them for who they are and not just what society perceives them to be.

It is extremely rewarding to do the work that we do because you know that people are relying on you for their needs. Our days can definitely get crazy, but it is the smiles and words of appreciation that you get to see and hear every single day that make it worth it.

So what is a day in the kitchen really like? It is filled with so much more than just cooking...

Katie shows off the kitchen's biggest ladle!

We start in the kitchen at 11am every day and have 3-4 of us full-time volunteers working. On Mondays and Fridays, we get some bread, peanut butter, jelly, snacks, etc. ready for lunch. At 12pm, guests are allowed in the building and can sign up for laundry and a shower. One person begins on getting laundry and will do a maximum of 10 loads. 

Aileen finishing up a load of laundry.

Women's showers begin right away and one of us facilitates them. The guests are allowed to make themselves a lunch and hang out in the dining hall from 12pm-3pm on Mondays and Fridays during showers. Once women's showers are done, the men begin, and someone else facilitates that.

While all of that is going on, someone else is in the kitchen preparing dinner. Common main dishes may include casseroles, Italian beef, BBQ chicken, ham over rice and beans, or spaghetti. We work until 3pm to get the meal prepared, and then from 3pm to 4pm, we go on break. 

Heating food is serious business.

Once we come back down at 4pm, we complete any last-minute things for dinner, such as wrapping silverware, setting up tables, cooking any quick food, etc. Part-time volunteers arrive around 4:30pm, and they serve the food. We try to open doors for our guests at 4:15pm so they can come in, get a number, and watch TV or hang out.

Katherine checks to see whether the chicken is up to temp.

A group of part-time volunteers begin to serve dinner.

Dinner goes from 5pm to 6:30pm and guests are called in by their number, which they receive when they sign in. We typically serve 90-120 people but it can get up to 140. I love dinner time because you get to see all the guests come in and get a good meal. It’s nice because we also get time to talk with them and see how their day was.

Katie and Enrique ready to greet guests during intake.

Once dinner ends at 6:30pm, we clean up the kitchen and make sure everything is put away for the next day. We typically finish around 7pm.

Typical note-writing exchange with one of our maintenance guys, Scotty.

We serve dinner every single day of the year, weekends and holidays included. Our laundry service is on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Guests can come and take a shower on Mondays and Fridays. We also get clothing donations so we can provide guests with clothes as needed. It’s a busy place, but the services are definitely needed and get well-used.

At the end of the day, it is our guests that motivate me and make me excited to come to work. To be such a consistent face to so many people is such a reward. My eyes, heart, and mind have been opened in ways that only this experience could create, and for that, I’m forever grateful and blessed.

Group picture of the 2015-16 kitchen crew.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Working for a World Without Soup Kitchens

Aileen Mae Ryan

Growing up, I never worried about not having enough food. Every time I opened the pantry, my favorite meals were plentiful – pasta, bananas, PB&J sandwiches. I could eat whatever and whenever I wanted.

Three months into my service year at the Marquard soup kitchen, I’m rethinking my relationship with food. For too many of our guests, food is not plentiful; food is impossible, because it costs too much for guests to make their own dinners. For too many, their dinner at the Marquard is the first time they’ve eaten all day. Many don’t know what or when their next meal will be – quite a different experience than eating whatever and whenever.

Although I can’t change my privileged relationship with food, I can change my understanding of our guests’ relationships. On one hand, I understand that the food I make genuinely helps our guests. Whether I’m baking casseroles, chopping apples, or shredding chicken, I know our guests will directly benefit. Since we’re open for dinner every night of the year, I know our guests can count on me and my fellow volunteers. Our guests are some of the kindest and most compassionate individuals I’ve ever met, and I’m honored to work with such wonderful human beings.

On the other hand, even though my work feels meaningful, I wish this line of work wasn’t needed in the first place. I wish our guests didn’t have to survive on soup kitchens. I wish they could afford meals for themselves and for their families. It’s like I’m constantly throwing life rafts to sinking ships; if the ships didn’t keep sinking, we wouldn’t need any life rafts.

Knowing that people are starving on the streets, I know that I must keep serving at Franciscan Outreach. At the same time, I don’t need to accept that people are drowning. I don’t need to accept that the ships will always sink.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Makes a Place a Home?

Emily Davis

On July 20th, I left the place I had considered home for 21 years to find a new one. I moved halfway across the country and took a giant leap of faith. Moving in and getting to know my new community, city, and work was overwhelming and definitely an adjustment. 11 new people. Different countries. personalities. stories. We all had a lot to learn. 

During opening retreat and orientation, we talked about values, spirituality, and groceries. As well as, CPR, identity, and homelessness. Throughout all of these things and my first few nights working in the shelter, I found myself reflecting on the meaning of the word "home". All of my life I had considered my beautiful, suburban yellow house in Bowie, Maryland, home and while I did go to college and consider that a home for awhile, it was not my home. So what made this place my home? Was it because I was born there? Or because it is where my family lives? What happens when I move to a new house? Is that home?

As I attempted to answer all of these questions, I realized how much of my identity I had tied to that yellow house and how leaving it and finding a new home had been difficult for me. However, what was most difficult about this realization, was recognizing what my definition of home would mean for those who are homeless. In facing the many challenges that had led the guests we serve to homelessness, what else were they dealing with because they lost their home? If leaving my home, with the ability to build a new one was so hard for me, what was losing a home like for our guests?

This realization lead me to recognize the importance of providing our guests, not only with basic shelter, but also with hospitality. Franciscan Outreach has made it possible for us to be a part of providing shelter and given us the opportunity to create a new type of home for our guests. We have to help them to find some refuge from whatever they are dealing with. And just as my community members are helping me to rebuild a new home, I am there for the ladies at the Franciscan House. Hopefully, this year I will build incredible relationships with the ladies and become someone they can depend on. We will be together for holidays and hard times and I am more than excited to walk along their journeys with them. We are all building a new home and a new family together.