bashorkatie

Brave

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

photoIt was a hectic night on Christmas Eve at Central Night Shelter. We had a wonderful Jewish congregation spending the night on both sides of the Shelter. They have done this for us for several years, knowing this was a difficult night for us to find volunteers. They had to divvy themselves up and decide who was going to stay where. We also have this extraordinary family who solicits, organizes, and provides gifts for each of our Shelter guests. Bill H. is a force of nature! Each of our one hundred plus guests receives a tote bag stuffed with goodies—toiletries, flannel shirts, socks, gloves, and hats. These all had to be organized by size and divided up between the two Shelters that evening. This was all in addition to the normal busy chaos of housing and feeding a hundred men!

Luckily, our daughter, Jessie, and her husband, Cathal, came to help while Mark took my mother, who was visiting from Idaho, home from Christmas Eve Mass. The overnight volunteers got themselves sorted to the two sides of the Shelter. Bill H. and his family got all the gifts down from the storeroom and divided the gifts and themselves to do the distribution between the two sides. With everything in place, I decided to open the doors a little early to get folks inside out of the cold. Cathal went over to the Shrine side to let in the guests there while I did the door at Central. It was busy at the door over at Central as we had both the guests coming in for admittance to the Shelter and congregants of Central Presbyterian arriving for services but everyone stayed in good humor and it finally came down to the last of the men coming in for the night.

A man stepped forward at the end with his ID, stating his name. I looked but he was not on the previous night’s list. I told him that since he had not been in last night he would have to get a referral to get back into the Shelter. This is standard operating procedure and is explained to each of our guests when they are referred to us. I recognized this guest from the Sunday night prior as he had an issue that night as well. I made an exception and let him in, thinking at the time that it was probably a mistake. I was stern with him on Sunday and went over the rules again, telling him that there would not be another second chance. Now, here he was again, trying to talk his way past me with a story of a medical emergency and a trip to Grady Hospital. I asked to see his discharge papers from Grady, knowing that he most likely could not
produce them. He became belligerent and loud and insistent. I asked him to leave the property and told him he would not be allowed to come into the Shelter. Of course, this is taking place while members of Central are trying to come in for Christmas Eve services so I was more than ready for this guy to move on. Suffice it to say that he indulged in ugly name-calling, verbal abuse, and accusations of racism before finally leaving the property. This kind of episode is fairly rare but never pleasant. Several of the guests were still downstairs waiting for the elevator and witnessed the encounter. They were very upset about it and kept asking me if I was all right. I assured them I was fine but I don’t think they believed me because as soon as they got upstairs they sent down some guys from the Clean Up Crew to check on me.

Finally, we closed the doors and went upstairs. I introduced the overnight volunteers, the food crew, and the Trainer. I asked the Jewish volunteers if they would say a Hebrew blessing for our Christmas Eve dinner. They readily obliged and laughed when someone said “Hats off, Gentlemen!” They explained that in the Jewish tradition they keep their heads covered for prayer so the guys happily kept their caps on. The meal was served and I got ready to go check on the other side of the Shelter. A man who had been downstairs with me during the incident approached me with his arm outstretched to embrace my shoulders. He put his arm around me and murmured, “You were so brave.” His other arm came from behind his back holding a doll. “This is for you, Katie.” I asked him if he was sure and he said yes, that he wanted me to have it. I thanked him and hugged him again.

On the way to our cars after we had wished everyone well and left for the evening, Jessie realized I did not understand the significance of the doll. She explained that it was the main character from an animated movie called “Brave”. To give this gift exchange even more context I need to explain that the guest who gave it to me is African-American and gay. Homophobia pervades our culture but it can be vicious on the street so if there were ever anyone who needed a “Brave” talisman it would be this man. Yet, he had given it to me, the white woman going home to her comfortable home and loving family. I remain humbled by his generosity and caring spirit. I have kept the doll in our living room where I see it all the time so that I will be mindful of bravery in its many forms. The bravery of our guests as they put one foot in front of the other while enduring the harsh realities of the street, their courage as they face a future that is uncertain at best, their steadfast hopes for a better life, their gratitude and faith for what they do have—all of these serve as models of bravery for me. I will hold my talisman close in my heart along with these men who teach me so much about living a life of service and gratitude.

A Gift Returned

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm

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A few days ago we celebrated the holidays at Central Night Shelter with our annual party called “Mac’s Party”.  It is a celebration that was born out of pain and grief for my friend Carol who turned her loss into something quite extraordinary and wonderful. Carol rallies the troops—friends, students, fellow teachers, parents, and grandparents. They all come bearing gifts and donations. There are real Christmas trees to be trimmed with decorations made by First Graders. Children earnestly string popcorn. Bread, lunch meat, and all of the accompaniments are spread out as parents don plastic gloves to supervise young ones packing a hundred lunch bags and a hundred breakfast bags. Garland is hung. Tables are transformed with tablecloths and centerpieces.

 

Oh my! And the food!! Prime rib, shrimp cocktail, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken wings, broccoli casserole, ham, biscuits, and every kind of desert you can imagine. All of it is set up as a buffet and the men are allowed to fill their own plates and go back for seconds and thirds. Carol even brings containers for them to pack plates to go with them the next day. There is a whole crew of volunteers who work tirelessly in the kitchen churning out the food, making sure all of it is hot and delicious. The children stay busy refilling drinks, passing out extra napkins, and making themselves available to fetch anything the men ask for.

 

Santa Claus always makes an appearance even though this is his busiest time of year! He takes his time and goes around the gym speaking to every single person there. He poses for countless pictures and listens oh so carefully to the whispered wishes of the children. I always see him lean in close to talk to our guests. I hear him speak of love and magic and miracles.

 

Carol has gifts for each of the one hundred men: socks, hats, a McDonald’s gift card, and a ten dollar bill. The men are beyond thrilled with their gifts. The gift card gives them not only a meal but also a place to sit and be out of the elements for a bit. And, of course, cash is something they almost never see.

 

Towards the end of the party that evening one of the guests came up to me and handed me the gift card and ten dollar bill, insisting that I take them. I told him that they were a gift and belonged to him. His words to me were, “This Shelter has given me so much already. I cannot possibly accept another gift. You all have done more than enough for me.” And, with that, he walked away with a smile on his face. This small moment from the party keeps coming back to me. In our culture of want and need and must have it seems to me extraordinary that a man with seemingly so little returns his gift out of gratitude for what he has already received.

 

The gift of the party to the Shelter has been returned to Carol in the form of a healing balm. It has been returned to the community of volunteers who now find this gathering to be a highlight of their holiday season. The gift of the party to the guests has made them feel a part of a community that cares for and values them.  The gift returned to me in this small moment during the party has become a small gem I take out to remind me of the rich depth of my life, the magnitude of the gifts I am given each day, and the need to keep gratitude for it all close to my heart.

 

Photo Credit: Jessie Bashor

 

 

 

Citizen’s Arrest

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm

208095_515009170938_4997_nI was in the kitchen at Central Night Shelter one evening reading notes the volunteers had left about the previous night. I heard a commotion and looked up to see a couple of the volunteers running across the gym floor. As they reached the door to the kitchen, they both began talking at the same time.

“Slow down!”, I said. “What’s going on??”

One of the volunteers took a deep breath and said, “Steve’s wife is in labor and he needs to leave right away. He can’t get out of the parking lot though because some guy is parked in the middle of the driveway. Can you come down and see if you can help us?”

Steve was one of our overnight volunteers and he and his wife were expecting their first child. I grabbed my coat and we made our way down to the Shrine parking lot. Sure enough, there was a black sedan in the middle of the driveway, blocking any cars from exiting or entering  the parking lot.

Steve came over to me and said, “It looks like some guy is sleeping in the car but, man, I have GOT to go!”

I approached the car on the driver’s side and peered in the window. The man had his arms around the steering wheel and his head down in the middle of it. I knocked on the window. No response. I knocked again. Nothing. I began to pound hard on the window and shouted for him to open the door. Finally, the man raised his head and looked around, bleary-eyed. I tried the door but it was locked. I motioned for him to roll down the window. He lowered it just a crack but far enough for the noxious fumes of alcohol to waft over me. I turned my head and told one of the volunteers to call the police.

“Sir, please exit your vehicle immediately.” I thought maybe if I sounded authoritative he would do what I was asking. And, sure enough, he unlocked the door and started to climb out. It was obvious to all of us that he was very drunk.

“Was the problem, Offisher?” Oh great, he thinks I’m the police! Well, I just went with it since we did not have time to fool around with this guy and I did not want him to get on the road in the condition he was in because he would likely kill himself or someone else. My hopes were to stall him long enough for the police to arrive and to try and get the car moved out of the way so Steve could leave and get to his wife.

“Sir, you are under arrest.”, I said. He peered at me and it seemed as if  the cold wind had brought him out of his fog a bit. Finally, he said, “You ain’t no policeman!”  In my best Barney Fife imitation I said, “Sir, this is a Citizen’s Arrest.”

By now, a couple of the guests of the Shelter had come out to make sure I was all right and they stood behind me. The guy looked at me and looked at them and, suddenly, he dove into his car and slammed the door. I grabbed the handle and yelled at him to get out, willing the police to arrive. The two guests were yelling at me to get away from the car. They kept saying, “You don’t know what he might do! He might have a gun!”

The man jammed the car into reverse and hit the gas, squealing his tires as he drove away. I yelled the license plate numbers so we all could remember them. The police car pulled up and I shouted that it was a drunk driver. I gave him the car description and pointed in the direction he had gone. The adrenaline must have been flowing because I pounded on the roof of the squad car and shouted, “GO, GO, GO!” He took off and squealed his own tires as he gave pursuit.

Steve sped out of the parking lot honking his horn as he left. The rest of us stood there looking at each other. Finally, one of the guests who was out there said, “Damn, girl, you’d think you was Hawaii Five-O!”

That’s me, Katie Bashor, Serve and Protect…

Photo Credit: Andrew McQuade

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