It is reasonable to assume most are the “invisible homeless”—men and women who are probably sleeping on couches at the houses of friends and family members, with the agreement that they will be up and out of the house early each day. This sight has always disturbed me, and I was troubled about what we could do about it. I had some comfort knowing that Catholic Charities provides basic needs assistance that helps over 30,000 individuals each year, but even that did not console me.
The sight of so many people early in the morning, who were clearly ignored and virtually alone, continued to weigh on me—most painfully when I watched them pass by our Catholic Charities sign and our locked rolling metal door that is pulled down for security when the office is closed.
There are two primary problems that Catholic Charities and other like-minded organizations continually wrestle with when seeking to help those in need—lack of resources and lack of space for programs. Like other organizations, Catholic Charities is constantly seeking both resources and space in order to better serve families in our local communities. So in thinking about my neighbors on D Street, I was again hit with this everyday reality—Catholic Charities has no more resources and no space to start another program.
Then a few months ago, as I pulled into our parking lot on D Street early one morning, it dawned on me ... We have a parking lot! And my wife and I, together with our family and friends, could come up with the money to cover the basic costs of a program to help our neighbors!
Such was the beginning of Neighbor to Neighbor. Like most of our efforts at Catholic Charities, the outcome of Neighbor to Neighbor is not to solve poverty and homelessness. Its only goal is to acknowledge the dignity of those who cross our path from 7:15 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. Secondarily, we offer “the best coffee on D Street,” large, fat blueberry muffins, some breakfast bars “to go,” and bottles of water to stave off the Inland heat during the summer months. Though we offer food and drink, Neighbor to Neighbor is, at its fundamental core, a “ministry of presence.”
The Neighbor to Neighbor ministry began on Easter Sunday in the parking lot of Catholic Charities, and has continued every Sunday morning since. It is similar to the well-known “Coffee & Donuts” fellowship time that takes place at every Catholic parish across the country following Sunday Mass. Similar to this common form of fellowship, Neighbor to Neighbor represents a basic act of hospitality for the neighborhood.
Weeks have passed, and I am happy to report that we do not have hundreds of people lining up for coffee and muffins in our parking lot. Instead of long lines, there is plenty of time for cheerful greetings and small talk. The neighbors come to us on foot or by bike, and most stay and talk as they prepare their coffee, grateful for a listening ear. Others just grab a cup of coffee and a pastry and go about their way, feeling acknowledged and appreciated.
One mother visits us faithfully, and every week she asks if it’s okay for her to pick up three muffins for her children. She told us it makes her so happy to be able to provide her young children with something that she could never afford on her own, and the children now look forward to them on Sundays, often asking her during the week, “Is it Sunday yet?”
For on Sunday mornings, we do not offer long-term solutions to the very difficult and poverty-fueled situations faced by so many of our neighbors. On Sundays, we offer only concern, interest, and a loving regard for their dignity. One’s stature in life has no value; on Sunday mornings, we are only brothers and sisters. We are exactly the same in all ways that matter. We are simply neighbors sharing some bread and drink, and in our own ways recognizing God’s presence in the moment. And that’s a powerful Sunday blessing for all of us.