March 13, 2019

Students volunteer with the homeless at the “Downtown Chapel”

Students join Catholic Student Life Coordinator Anne Le Chevallier to serve dinner to the homeless at the St. Andre Bessette parish, also known as the “Downtown Chapel”

On February 1, 2019, I went with my friend to meet a Lewis & Clark student group at the “Downtown Chapel” at 6:00 pm. This place is managed and organized by the Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church, and one of their aims is to provide a safe community for the homeless, those with mental illness, and addictions survivors. Our goal there as volunteers was to serve dinner for those people, to treat them with dignity and respect and provide them with good company by sitting with them and chatting in order to help them with their solitary feelings. Some of the food that we served was lasagna, steamed green beans, fried bacon, applesauce, bread, chase cake and different kinds of drinks such as water, orange juice, hot tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. I was “the applesauce lady” as they called me there because I served applesauce.  A couple of students had big baskets of candy and they went around the place to offer it to the guests. The rest of the people who did not serve any food sat with the guests to chat. The Church organizes this evening hospitality every Friday from 6-10 pm.

I can say this is one of the most significant and unique experiences that I have had ever since I first came here to the U.S and I saw homeless people on the streets.  I never thought that I would deal with them in person one day. I learned that these people really deserve our attention and care. I discovered that they are polite, friendly and easy to talk with. Also, I was concerned that they wouldn’t accept me because I’m an Arabian woman and once they talked with me they would figure that out that from my accent, but actually they treated me equally like the others and they made me forget about my concerns. In addition, I had an incredible impression of the volunteers and organizers. They are decent people and welcomed us warmly. I liked the way that they began and ended the hospitality day, which made the experience even more worthwhile. In the beginning, we gathered in a circle to introduce our names and our word of the day- mine was “grateful”. We did the same circle meeting at the end to talk about our reflections about the day and our experiences.

Homelessness, mental illness, and addictions are different issues but they are often related because you can find a homeless person who suffers from addiction or mental illness or both. For sure it is hard to count the root causes of these issues but I think the main cause is the economic distress that has accumulated through the years and history, which has lead these people to lose their jobs, homes, families, and has made them rely on drugs or alcohol to escape reality. I am thankful for the organizations like Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church because they take care of those people and tell them indirectly by caring for them in this way that they are not alone and they deserve a second, third, fourth, and even endless chances.

Hanin Arqasous