Written by Claudia Parker
“What makes an upper-middle class white couple want to serve food in an underprivileged crime-ridden neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago,” I asked myself?
It was 7 a.m. this past Sunday when my husband Don and I ditched our Sunday morning worship service to prepare and serve breakfast at Roseland Christian Ministries’ (RCM) soup kitchen, located at 10858 S. Michigan Ave.
A soup kitchen is a place where free food is served to those who are homeless or destitute. It was our first time; a spontaneous decision prompted by an invitation of a married couple from Beverly, who happen to be our dear friends and former Evergreen Park next-door neighbors.
This missionary couple, too humble to be named, are members of Palos Heights Christian Reformed Church (CRC) under the leadership of Senior Pastor Greg Janke. Our friends serve on one of their auxiliaries that has been sending its members to aid the RCM soup kitchen for years. When we agreed to go, we didn’t know the name of the church or its location. I, being naïve, felt based on who was inviting us that we’d be in a “safe” area of Roseland.
According to several news media outlets, Roseland ranks 15 among Chicago's 77 community areas for drugs, violent crimes and gang activity. Not that I needed statistics to tell me that, I heard it straight from RCM member, Carolyn Zeigler. “I had two nieces killed while jumping rope two blocks from here in August of 2010,” said Carolyn. “The boy that shot them down while they were playing double-dutch had been initiated into a gang to get 10 kills, so he shot into a crowd of kids playing outside.”
There’s a kill quota?
As disturbing as that was, her horrifying stories continued. “These streets took my son too. He was 19 years old, a basketball scholar bound for the NBA before they killed him.”
Just when I didn’t think I could handle another tragic tale, she pointed to a handsome young man’s picture taped to the wall among several RCM member photos. “You see this boy here?” It was 16-year-old Andre Taylor of the Rosemoor neighborhood. “He was one of our members, an innocent kid recently killed after being mistaken for another family member.”
Andre was murdered by suspected gang members while in his front yard, March 14, 2016.
It pained Carolyn to share and she teared up. It was a lot for me to hear as well. I broke the tension with a divergent question, “Where shall I begin?”
There was a lot to be done. People had already begun gathering outside.
Carolyn said she’s been a member of RCM for 34 years and serves in several capacities. This post in particular has her six days a week as an unpaid volunteer. She said sometime she works alone but on this day she has me, Don, the couple that invited us along with one additional white couple from Palos Heights CRC.
This isn’t a light-weight ministry where you hand out a muffin or two. This is a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-busy ministry. We hauled pots, pans and ingredients to their location. We scrambled eggs, fried sausage, flipped flapjacks and sliced fruit. We poured juice, coffee, and served each patron firsts, seconds and thirds until their bellies were full or the food was gone.
Did I mention cleanup?
We didn’t leave until the place was spic and span. It was three hours of hard labor and our friends told us they and various members of Palos Heights CRC have been serving Sunday breakfast at RCM over 10 years.
Before access to the food was granted, Carolyn orchestrated something that stuck with me. Every person present was asked to introduce themselves and share one thing they were grateful for. Learning each of their names humanized them, made them more than homeless or disenfranchised. It gave them dignity and value. I held a connection with them as I placed sausage links on their plates. That was my role when the assembly line of serving began. Making sure to give eye contact, I greeted each person with, “Good morning, how are you?”
Many people are terrified by the current state of our nation. Between terror attacks, hate crimes, black-on-black crime, blue-on-black crime and black-on-blue retaliation -- what has become of our great land of the free?
What can we do to heal this pain and injustice so we can regain trust in one another?
I’ll tell you exactly how we heal. We accept an invitation into a place unlike ourselves and serve them with love. We allow ourselves to learn from people who’re different. We force fear aside so we can have meaningful interactions with people who have names with desires and aspirations just as worthy as ours.
People want to be acknowledged with respect and dignity regardless of their education, race or social economic class. Every human being deserves the simple liberty of being treated as equal.
I encountered several police officers running errands this past week. I made a point to address each of them, “Officer, thank you for your service,” I’d say. It was received with such appreciation. “Thank YOU!” I’d hear in return. It was as if they were relieved to hear something kind.
There are flaws in our legal system that must be repaired. The egregious crimes being committed on all aforementioned fronts will buckle our nation to its knees if WE as a people do not seek to understand one another. Allow me to challenge YOU to show an act of love to someone you perceive to be different than yourself.
Thank you Palos Heights CRC and RCM for setting a great example. Continue to take the church into the streets.
Let LOVE win!