Five Loyola College students took a whirlwind tour of hope and despair this past weekend when they volunteered to work with some of the poorest people in Baltimore.
While many of their classmates got ready for a prom, studied for final exams or relaxed over the weekend, they came into the city to serve soup and sandwiches, sort clothes and make conversation with people with no fixed address.
"I decided that after complaining so much about there not being enough money to help people that I ought to get off my butt and do something," said Matthew McClure, a 19-year-old Loyola freshman from Philadelphia.
Mr. McClure spent Saturday at Beans & Bread on Aliceanna Street in Fells Point, where men and women lined up around the block for a meal.
"I found out that the stereotypes are all wrong, all of them are real people," he said.
"You can see yourself among them. There were some little kids coming in alone, and one clean-cut lady reminded me of my Mom. It was kind of sad."
Designed to allow young people to spend several long days with the poor, the program hopes to provide a wider understanding of problems facing America's underclass and to
get more people to work at solving them.
The program is centered at Christopher Place, an East Eager Street shelter for homeless men that stands in the shadow of the City Jail in East Baltimore.
"It's a bunch of students getting together to share what we all believe in," said Brigit Bauernschub, a Loyola junior who recruited the volunteers.
Mr. McClure, Ms. Bauernschub and three of their classmates spent the weekend at Christopher Place and used it as a springboard to assist at various soup kitchens and shelters around the city.
Some of their help was obvious: serving meals and cleaning up afterward.
Other things they accomplished were just as simple but not so obvious.
"I spent a lot of time just talking to people, just sitting down with someone who was homeless and saying, 'What did you do yesterday?' " said 20-year-old Liz Chilton, a Cub Hill resident who worked Saturday at My Sister's Place, a downtown shelter for women. "The people were very grateful. One woman brought a '' carnation with baby's breath for one of the workers. They want to pay you back as much as they can."
The project included a Saturday afternoon tour of the Baltimore
Rescue Mission on Central Avenue, a
fundamentalist Christian shelter for the homeless with a pointedly different approach to the poor than the Roman Catholics' at Christopher's Place.
Christopher Place is liberal to the point of helping just about any man who needs help.
The Baltimore Rescue Mission, which regularly shelters up to 180 people a night, will feed and shelter men only after they have either memorized or a Bible verse or read it aloud.
"If they don't want to participate, that means they don't want to use the mission," said the Rev. Ken Matthews, a minister at the Rescue Mission.
"The goal of the mission is not to feed and house people; it's to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
That philosophy seemed to unnerve the Loyola students, but it ** was one that Sister Catherine Gugerty, S.S.N.D., the director of Christopher Place, says they must hear.
"There are a variety of ways to help the poor," she said.
"I don't argue with the way the mission does its work," Sister Gugerty said. "They are grounded in what they believe, and I'm sure they would look upon what we do as being very lax.
"But it's important to see that there are many, many ways to do what appears to be the same thing -- helping the poor."