A Time for Balance
Myra and Alex outlined the inner workings at Place of Grace and the everyday demands. Alex explained, “Our title is house coordinator so essentially we oversee and coordinate the food pantry and deliveries. It is a free pantry so we don't worry about thievery or anything. However, if we get milk, we don't get as much milk, so we can't have one person take it all. We also make sure a meal gets served every Thursday. We get 20 to 40 people that come through the pantry each week. Then for meals we usually cook for 50 people. We have anywhere from one to four places that we will deliver to and then we take the rest down to the park.” Myra added, “We are a placeholder for the community and being in a more struggling part of town, we have been taking more of an interest in the kids. We are in the process of setting up workshops. We want the Place of Grace to be a safe space. Different groups are also looking to meet here and work out of here. The old house coordinator works with those who are just getting out of jail.”
Alex furthered the conversation on his hopes for Place of Grace by saying, “There are a lot of people that come here that need food, but they also need a place to live and work. Essentially, we're looking at creating a sense of healing and progression. I am in school for mental health counseling and I want to make that a part of Place of Grace as well, in a legal and ethical fashion.” A poignant proclamation declared by Myra reminded us of the importance of boundaries and balance. “Sometimes, our role has to be setting boundaries with volunteers and people who are asking a lot of us. It's a struggle to set boundaries because I have the capabilities, time, and resources. Sometimes, there is a necessary line that needs to be drawn to show compassion to ourselves and other people. We need to make sure we are not enablers and that’s been a big lesson and a really fine line to walk.”
Reminders of balance echoed from Myra’s sentiment when she shared her experiences. “It's pretty hard. If you're doing it independently it’s just different. I used to bring food or coffee to homeless people that I would pass every day. At that point, it is easier to set the boundary of how much you can help. It's different working here because it's what we're here for. There's that weird line of wanting to help, not wanting to deny it, but also knowing when to set those boundaries.”
Myra and Alex shared some of their favorite memories and how their work at Place of Grace continues to reward them and those in the community. Myra reminisced, “Some of our friends, in the community, are from Cuba and they play traditional Cuban Music. They will come on Thursdays when we serve a meal and sing and play the drums. It’s really awesome.” Alex complimented the memory and shared one of his own, “One of my favorite memories was at the park. This guy came over and was crying because the soup Myra made was so good. He said, “Did you put love in this?” He was literally in tears and so amazed at how wonderful it tasted.” Myra laughingly chimed in, “And it was vegetarian! So it was love! That's how you know!”
At times, the work at Place of Grace requires Myra and Alex to be vulnerable, a feeling that pairs with their invested role when working with those in need. Myra shared, “It's really heavy. Being around people who are experiencing so much pain and hardship can be draining and also disheartening to see.” Alex revealed a story, “There is a woman who showed up a couple weeks ago on a Sunday morning after one of the first nights it frosted over and got really cold. It seemed that she didn't sleep that night or slept outside in the cold. She wanted bus tokens or something to get out of town. She said she and her boyfriend had a place out of town to go to. We don't have gas cards or anything like that here. It was really difficult to not be able to help her and to see that disappointment in her face. It's difficult when people ask for something that we don't offer. It's also difficult to balance whether we're putting a Band-Aid on the issue or truly helping them.” After listening to Alex’s story Myra disclosed some of her hopes for the future at Place of Grace, “There's also a lot of mental illness and addiction which can of course influence people's reactions. That's why I really want to get art here and have a safe place for kids to make art. Their family members can be in the other room getting help from a trained professional if they need it.”
The topics of gratitude and privilege emerged naturally into the conversation when Alex commented, “People in the park are always super grateful. Connecting with them and hearing their stories always adds to a sense of gratitude of what we're capable of and thankful for. We have a lot of privilege and it's really a sense of maintaining gratitude which makes it easier to serve.” In agreement Myra shared, “I think that's one of the hardest parts for me, we deal with people that don't have a home and then we get a home for doing the work with the homeless and those in need. I struggle with that one because when you want to help people and you want to bring them all home, but you know that doesn’t work either.”
Myra and Alex shared some of the shortcomings or failures they see within the system and how it affects the people they work with. Alex circled back to his earlier thought, “It's coming back to that difficult question of if it’s a Band-Aid or is it actually helping?” and Myra responded with an answer to Alex’s question and a story, “It's both. If people were getting the love and support that they needed growing up and the love and support that they needed when they were entering adulthood, then maybe they wouldn't find themselves in these situations. Those people [the homeless] still matter. It's obvious that the system has failed those people [the homeless] and that have gotten unlucky breaks. Once you're there, you get stuck. One of our friends has been homeless for quite a few years and he's getting an apartment tomorrow, which is exciting. However, he had a job while he was homeless and that is hard enough because it's hard to get hired if you don't have an address to put on papers. Then there was a huge storm and all his stuff got wet. He tried to go into work the next day, but all of his stuff was wet. How can you get back up on your feet if you don't have a place to lay your head at night? It’s just a constant cycle.” Continuing in this line of thought Alex shared, “It is a really difficult cycle and you can't really help someone if their immediate needs aren't met first.”
In the final thoughts they shared with us, Myra and Alex believed a message of compassion and worth needed space in their story. Myra explained that we must “have love and compassion instead of seeing them [the homeless] as anything lesser. They are a soul experiencing hardship. It's a lot easier to be mean sometimes, and I guess my message would be to challenge yourself to be kind and to see them in their light and as an extension of God.” Alex’s message speaks a similar truth, “Your love is only as strong as the person that you love the least. It's about treating everybody with love and as if they were Christ.” In a final thought Myra reminded us, “Just remember that everyone is worthy of receiving help. Everyone struggles sometimes and using food pantries or other services are there for everyone. Everyone is worthy. You are worthy.”
Artist’s Note: You cannot fully help others if your own cup is empty. Life is all about balancing and giving what you can. Be the peace you want to see in the world around you.
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