Greetings and Happy Holidays to you all!
As you might know, this year I have been serving at the nonprofit Asheville Poverty Initiative. The goal of Asheville Poverty Initiative, or API, is to eradicate poverty through relationships. This is a theme in all of our programs but it is perhaps most visible when it comes to 12 Baskets Cafe. 12 Baskets is our non-profit, volunteer-run Cafe that serves rescued food from a variety of restaurants around Asheville. As we like to say, at 12 Baskets we have food but it’s not who we are. At 12 Baskets we try to build relationships and create a community with people on all ends of the poverty spectrum.
One of the most impactful relationships that I’ve built up at the Cafe is with a guest who I’ll call Sam. Sam comes into the Cafe for lunch everyday and regularly stays after we close to help us clean up. One of the things that I love about our friendship is not only do we come from different ends of the poverty spectrum but we also have completely different political beliefs. Despite that we still share a meal together at least once a week and consider each other friends.
Last week, Sam came into the Cafe and shared with Shannon, my supervisor, that yesterday when he returned to his camp site in the woods outside of Asheville, his tent and everything except for his Welcome mat was gone. This is where Sam sleeps, keeps all of his clothes and a number of his belongings, all of which are now gone. That same afternoon Shannon and I led a Bible Study at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Asheville. The theme of the Bible Study has been looking at our Advent scripture alongside people who are experiencing poverty with the hope of looking at these texts through a different lense. Sam had been attending these Bible Studies with us but he understandably wasn’t feeling up to it on this particular day. Before we started we held a time for Prayer Concerns and we lifted up Sam and told the group what happened to his tent. Once the Bible Study was over, a member of the church came up to us and said that she had a basement full of camping gear that she wasn’t using and wanted to pass it onto Sam. Another member said they had some clothes they wanted to give to him. Another offered to take him to Walmart to stock him up on any other supplies he might need. The members of the church wanted to do this because they had gotten to know Sam and feel like he’s a part of their community. When you spend time getting know someone, you are more likely to care about them despite all of your differences. This is an example I can point to of how API is living out it’s goal. We did not eradicate the poverty that Sam is living in. But we helped him out in his time of need because we know his story and we genuinely care that he has enough resources to help him get through this impossibly difficult time in his life.
It is through the act of breaking bread and having conversations that I have been able to get to know people like Sam. We have our differences and we acknowledge them, but we are still able to treat each other as the beloved Children of God that we truly are. We are at a point in our country where huge groups of people hold a lot of fear or even hate towards other people who have different beliefs than our own. But by creating a space of respect and open dialogue, like 12 Baskets, we are able to get to know people who are different from us, find something we have in common and maybe even learn something from each other. Once we know each other, it is a lot harder to be afraid of each other.