Our “community” is the homeless population in Fredericksburg. We contributed by volunteering with Micah Ministries by helping out with one of their many Thanksgiving dinners at the Presbyterian Church. Micah Ministries’ vision is to end homelessness in Fredericksburg area. Multiple congregations coming together to help the homeless by providing services for those who need them. The services that are provided are hospitality, recovery/rehabilitation programs, daily meals. cold weather shelter, transportation (to meals, medical appointments, etc.), helping with transitions into housing and employment, etc. All of these services are funded by donation. These dinners usually serve about 80-100 people per dinner.
Our specific type of community engagement is related to personal power. There is a difference of social/power level between volunteers and the people who are receiving the free dinner. When we first came to the church, we all felt a little tension and awkwardness between us and the people receiving the free dinner. The homeless people felt that the volunteers had bad motives and were volunteering for the wrong reasons. This led to them not fully trusting us and barely speaking to us at all. We were constantly asked why we were really there; if we were required to volunteer there; that this volunteering opportunity was mandatory for a class. They didn’t want to feel like a charity case. Once they learned our true intentions, they opened up and became more welcoming and comfortable. So comfortable in fact that they shared their biographies and life experiences about how they became homeless. These homeless men and women let their guard down when common ground was established. For example, one man and I bonded over our different ethnicities and how we are perceived. Another man and I bonded over our different religions. I am Hindu and he is Christian. There is also an imbalance of social/power levels between the authorities and the homeless men and women. When the officers walked in the church basement, almost every one of the individuals had their head down as if trying to seem like they didn’t wanna be accused or caught for doing something illegal. The authorities have a higher social/power level compared to the homeless individuals. They feel threatened by the authorities.
The dinner is served by the volunteers to the people, rather than self-serve, to give a restful atmosphere and create community among those attending. Dinners like these provide extra food to be taken home, such as the 100 pies were donated to the church and provides food to people who can’t afford it or people who would spend the money on food for others necessities. A majority of the people we talked with weren’t homeless, but still below the poverty line, which includes 11.7% of the population in VA. 16.1% of people in the city of Fredericksburg are food insecure. The shelter didn’t have to spend money on food due to the large donation by the churches which gives more options.
The organization as a whole doesn’t trouble the waters of inequality in the community. It contributes to end homelessness locally in the Fredericksburg community as well and statewide. Since the organization is a nonprofit and they completely rely on donations, it takes the place of the government is overlooking. The homeless population in Fredericksburg is often overlooked but there are still power inequalities I didn’t engage on my own. The organization expands to multiple churches and they have multiple services that are provided to the homeless individuals to have more variety and more options for them to become stable financially, physically and mentally. Our individual work shapes the issues of inequality and power inequities by indirectly recognizing the issues of the imbalance of power relations between the authorities/volunteers and the individuals receiving the free dinner.