Today I visited Neighbors Together in Brooklyn near Brownsville. It is a Community Cafe that serves lunch and dinner five days a week. I tagged along with one of the New York Postulants to the Cafe, obviously wanting to compare their soup kitchen to mine in Milwaukee.
Being in Brooklyn, the location was in a much smaller area than I was used to. Rather than having the spacious meal hall, numerous offices, and easy access I am used to in Milwaukee, this site attempted to provide the same services I was used to, but in a cramped setting. I was told that the previous location was even smaller yet, a reality of New York I still can't understand.
While providing a hot meal from 1-3P.M., I also met a few of the case workers on staff, offering aid to guests who are in need of housing, assistance, and whatever else they can. Much like home, all the staff I met were wonderful, energized, and wanted to do some good in the world. I always find it inspiring to see people like me: trying to save the world one person at a time.
While outreach centers and soup kitchens change from city to city, the faces of poverty and addiction stay the same. It's so easy to allow the anonymity of the needy to overshadow the purpose of this ministry; there is an imperative in me to be personal, friendly, and empathetic in this setting, if only to remind myself that no matter how great the number, I am always dealing with human beings.
I felt at home here just as if I were at St. Ben's in Milwaukee or God's Kitchen in Grand Rapids. Perhaps that seems weird for a guy who used to spend his evenings playing cards for big money. It's kind of interesting to look back on the past and see how I've really changed over the years. At one point, I preferred to be around people who only showed respect to those with a bigger bankroll or better skills at "the game." These days, I prefer to be around those people who want to make a difference in this world, great or small.
I can't wait to get back to Milwaukee and see the guests I know so well. However I feel glad to have visited Neighbors Together and interacting with others who share the same vision as me. It's good to know I'm not the only one desperately trying to be a hero in this world.