We've been working with a local center for youth struggling with homelessness for a couple of years now. Someone knew someone who came out to our church and told a group of children and youth about what this center does, and we decided to go make dinner. Once.
Then we decided to make dinner every second Tuesday. A couple of years later we know where everything is in the kitchen and we know pretty much how to make the right amount of food, and to have a few vegan portions a lot of vegetarian options and to make it all work at just about the right times. We show up at 5, serve at 6, call seconds at 6:15 and at 6:30 the youth are back out on the street. This isn't a residential center. We stay til about 7 cleaning up. It's two hours a month.
We've been at this for a while now. We started out led by one of the girls who is now a senior; I think the youth who are in AP and IB classes are too busy to breathe much less to do community service work. Now the youth coming are the Jr Youth--sixth, seventh and eighth graders, with a fourth grader or ninth grader coming along, and their parents, too.
We see some of the same youth coming in for dinner at the center from month to month. We see some moving on in their lives; getting clean, getting into school, moving on, coming back. But this is a low barrier center, we also see youth walk in off the street, get a quick read of the rules, a quick registration sign-in and get in line to eat. It takes about three minutes.
Last night was really hard for me. I don't know just exactly why. Did the youth seem older, harder? Where were the young ones, the artists? Are there more youth on the streets and the gentler ones are getting squeezed to some other place? Where? Is it me? Am I getting soft, looking more closely? What?
We made rice krispie treats but we almost forgot to put them out. I took a tray out into the dining room and went from table to table offering them to all the youth and staff. It's the kind of thing I do for my own children. Nice, cozy, it says "I care about you, you matter". And that's how I felt.
And then we watched them all walk by out into the darkness.