Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12 Days of Hope: The Power of a Meal

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Msgr. John Enzler, CEO and President of Catholic Charities, writes about our annual Christmas Dinner for the Homeless. 

Tonight, as we have for the past few years, Catholic Charities offices at 924 G Street, NW, will host hundreds of our neighbors who are homeless inside for a lovely Christmas dinner.

We’ll serve a heaping plate of food – turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course pie – and then each guest will be given a coupon for a free pair of shoes.

It’s a few hours filled with the warmth of family, laughter, lots and lots of people enjoying food, and some shared time between our volunteers and our guests. Thanks to my friend Jim Koons, each person will leave with a backpack full of warm clothing and personal hygiene items as well as a gift card to Payless Shoes to get a free pair of shoes.

I know, of course, that once the meal is over, our guests head back out into the cold night to sleep in a shelter or maybe on the street if they choose. The fact that we provide a meal or a free pair of shoes doesn’t do much to change their situation.

But, in my five years here at Catholic Charities, I’ve come to understand deeply the power of a meal in the larger push to end homelessness one person at a time.

When we serve a meal on the sidewalk, or invite folks inside our building, it creates a meal time much like family dinner at home for many of us, I suspect. And then, between bites of food or while someone is in line or waiting after, you can start to have conversations.

You start to get to know each other. They get to know me. I get to know them. We see each other each week or once a month. And slowly, we start a relationship that can often help lead someone who has been isolated or out in the cold for years back toward a healthier and safer life.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is a regular attendee at tonight’s event. And I know he comes because it’s a chance for him to minister to the poor in that same family-style setting. I love seeing the smile on his face. I love knowing that despite all the important work he has and the many different directions he is pulled in, he always makes time to come visit us and have dinner with someone who is homeless.

That’s the power of a meal.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Msgr. John Enzler
President and CEO
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington