What is a Sandwich Run?

Have a real conversation with our friends.A sandwich run is simply volunteers delivering nutritious bag lunches to homeless street people by walking well travelled routes in the downtown area where street people live.  It is a relational outreach – a grassroots community activity – in addition to delivering a meal to a hungry person, hopefully dialogue will occur and bridges of trust strengthened.

Here at Project417 Ekklesia Inner City Minsitries, we’ve been facilitating sandwich runs for almost twenty years. The main focus of the ministry is not simply delivering food to hungry street people. The key factor is communication through conversations with our friends on the street. We don’t try to be experts or counselors, rather we try to help our volunteers – ordinary people – engage with the homeless. This is true community demonstrated by the caring act of delivering a meal.

Anyone can volunteer with us by invitation after taking part in our orientation presented by experienced team leaders. Find out how truly liberating this volunteer experience can be – to step outside your personal comfort zone and meet our homeless friends on their own grounds.

Many churches have taken up “sandwich runs” in Toronto as a favorite activity for youth groups. But in their eagerness to provide an experience for their own youth, they overlook the deeper needs of the homeless they want to help. They focus on quantity, not quality – the sandwich runs become a mad dash around the city dropping bag lunches with as many homeless as possible, often even without asking the recipient simply ” Would you like a bag lunch?” I encounter these groups all the time, often as many as thirty or forty teens or younger children often accompanied by only a single adult. It becomes their charitable duty, rather than a ministry to reach people. While our friends on the street often tell us that they are encouraged by seeing the young people, and are thankful for the food, how can they be expected to engage in meaningful dialogue with someone who is fifteen or younger?  They crave mature discourse.  It would be wonderful to see more adults on sandwich runs – people who our street friends can relate to, and can understand some of the uniquely adult challenges they face such as family break-ups, job loss, abuse, addictions, psychological distress, relationship issues and so on.

Furthermore, these well meaning church groups are actually putting the safety of their youth at risk in not partnering with an inner city organization that provides experience, guidance and street saftey for their groups. I’ve actually seen church groups of dozens of children being herded by a single adult through Crack Central in Toronto with boxes of lunches and attempting to give lunches to dealers engaged in drug transactions. Not everyone on the streets, or in the parks of Toronto is homeless, or friendly and safe. I regularily encounter sleeping homeless people on street corners with more than a dozen bag lunches and other sundry styrofoam food trays piled up by their head or feet, obviously dropped there by an inexperienced group. And I doubt whether even one of them was prepared to check if that sleeping person was actually still breathing, or would know what to do if they discovered the person were in some physical distress.

I’ve had self-important church elders and youth pastors tell me “We’re doing God’s work and are under the divine protection of Jesus Christ”.  Christ doesn’t promise us safety from harm – on the contrary, He guarantees us conflict and confrontation if we follow Him in his work. It is wise to be prepared. At Project417 Ekklesia, we take that seriously. The safety of our groups is paramount, as is the effectiveness of our ministry to the homeless. Come on out and join us. Full details and calendar online at http://project417.com/sandwich

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Divine Appointment in Toronto

Center for Student Missions

From the CSM Urban Update blog, the experiences of a student volunteer in Toronto. –

I wanted to share who I had my divine appointment with – While we were at one of the ministry sites in Toronto that work with participants who are mentally challenged. I got the chance to spend some time with a girl named “R”. I met her on the first afternoon we were there. I looked down and realized she had prominent scars all over her arms…”

It’s particularily moving to me because of the young woman she met, identified as “R” only to protect her identity. I’ve known “R” for years – first met her at an Out of the Cold program for street youth. She has been street involved and homeless since she was thirteen. She has endured a youth no one should have to face, and she bears scars in deeper places than just her arms.

I met a psychiatrist who worked in Chicago’s inner city with troubled youth. He told me the significance of scars due self-inflicted cuts: It is the major indicator of victims of child sexual abuse. From Wikipedia, self-injury or self harm is described – The illness is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a symptom of borderline personality disorder and depressive disorders. It is sometimes associated with mental illness, a history of trauma and abuse including emotional abuse, sexual abuse … A study in 2003 found an extremely high prevalance of self-injury among 428 homeless and runaway youth (age 16 to 19) with 72% of males and 66% of females reporting a past history of self-mutilation. [Tyler, Kimberly A., Les B. Whitbeck, Dan R. Hoyt, and Kurt D. Johnson (2003), “Self Mutilation and Homeless Youth: The Role of Family Abuse, Street Experiences, and Mental Disorders”, Journal of Research on Adolescence 13 (4): 457–474

I include this technical background because although “R” is now a young woman, she has been on the street since she was a child in more than one Canadian city. Many more people than our organization have become familiar with her. This would of include coming to the “official” attention of the authorities. Why has everyone been so inneffective in helping her, how has she remained homeless for so long? As a teen, “R” was labelled by society as a “runaway” with all of the negative connotations that carries. In effect, most people would write her off as the author of her own condition. Far from it. “R” is a victim. She deserves better. I met her once on a street corner in Toronto, Spadina and Queen, where she was panhandling. She was in particularily bad shape that day, very high from her drug of choice at the time, which caused her to slur her words and made her body twitch uncontrollably.  When I arrived, she dragged herself up from the foot of the lightpole she was leaning against and, arms wide, asked for the only thing she has ever requested of me – a hug. Not the little, hihowareyou hugs we deliver in polite company, but a great big, bone crushing, head burying HUG.! It always cheers her up. Standing to one side were two semi-official looking people with those City of Tornto ID cards hanging around their necks. One had flashes from a private security company on his shoulders. He was “protection” for the city worker carrying a clipboard. Part of a new task force set-up by Toronto’s Streets to Homes programs to reduce panhandling. They were trying to interview “R” by asking a very long list of canned questions. They seemed oblivious to her state – as if she could be coherent while jonesin for a fix. After our hug, she turned to them and said, “I can’t talk to you now, Andy’s here. He saved my life”. After we talked for a while and I encouraged her to head for a woman’s shelter down the street, I left and went into a store at the corner to buy her bottled water. Her lips were cracked and bleeding she was so dehydrated. As I brought it back to her, the city social worker was back at it again, making little check marks on her clipboard survey. How those little pen strokes were supposed to bring healing to “R”, I’ll never know. She certainly deserves better.

Thanks to all the volunteers who come and meet people like “R” on their home turf. You bring with you a very precious commodity: love!
CSM brings hundreds of volunteers out to Project417 to take part in sandwich runs to the homeless on the streets of Toronto every year. Visit them at csm.org or donate to “R” at project417.com

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