After a mission of mercy, broken glass, intact faith

This Just In...

November 03, 1995|By DAN RODRICKS

Someone smashed Jeanne Cole's car window in the middle of the day, in the middle of the city, and, I note, right in the middle of this debate about Baltimore and the counties, the rich, the poor, the middle class, and where we all go from here.

Jeanne Cole is one of dozens of men and women from Baltimore County who, every couple of months, prepare casseroles for Our Daily Bread, the lunchroom for the poor operated by Catholic Charities on Cathedral Street, in the heart of the city. ODB is the best-known and most widely supported storefront charity, splashed across television screens whenever the holidays approach (or the pope drops in).

Sunday morning, Jeanne Cole and other volunteers from Our Lady of Grace Church in Parkton a collected more than 100 casseroles and made the 30-mile trip to Our Daily Bread. Cole's church opened to serve Catholics who reside in the sprawl along Middletown Road and other points in northern Baltimore County. Along Middletown, with its stunning vistas of rooftops where the corn used to grow, people have comfortable homes, big lawns and protection from the toxins of modern life -- all those social poisons that splash across television screens each night at 11. Literally and figuratively, it's about as far removed from Baltimore as any place in Baltimore County.

But here is Jeanne Cole and the other good people of Our Lady of Grace -- spiritually and personally connected to the poor. They know the region's highest concentration of poverty is in Baltimore, 30 miles away. They know Our Daily Bread serves more than 500 meals a day, but that it is just one of several facilities serving men, women and children who, because of terrible circumstances, often cannot find three squares.

Sunday morning, Jeanne Cole parked her car on Mulberry Street east of Charles, about two blocks from Our Daily Bread. She served meals for two hours. When she returned to her car, she found a window smashed, her CB radio stolen. The thief even took the lunch Cole had packed for herself.

How do you like that?

Do you think Jeanne Cole is bitter and angry? She had given up a peaceful Sunday in the county to be downtown performing an act of charity. And what did she get? A shattered window and shattered faith? It was even conceivable that the person who robbed Jeanne Cole's car had, minutes earlier, dined at Our Daily Bread.

Ah, the ugly little ironies of life.

But that's not why Jeanne Cole told me her story. There was a lot of car glass on Mulberry Street, see, so other vehicles must be getting hit there. Tell the police, she said, warn the public. That's why she called.

And no, this won't stop her from going downtown and volunteering at Our Daily Bread. The thought didn't even cross ++ her mind.

Jeanne Cole turned the other cheek; she didn't turn her back.

She could have, of course. We all could. Turning your back on the poor is the easiest thing to do these days, downright fashionable in some circles, including the Capitol of the United States. These days, the poor are considered sinners, leeches, agents of crime; they are primary scapegoats in America's midlife crisis. And they have no voice. They don't call talk radio. Politically, they are ciphers.

People like Jeanne Cole manage to see past all that. "There but for the grace of God " they think, then transport their charity across the county line, into the city, where it's needed most.

It's interesting that, right now, there's a question about how far we're all willing to go with this. For instance, would the surrounding counties be willing share the city's many burdens?

Four years ago, the respected urban writer Neal Pierce came to Baltimore and, after lengthy study, concluded bleakly that "some county residents, who rarely see a need to go to the city anymore, seem to feel that as long as Harborplace or the Orioles survive, the rest of Baltimore could slide into the bay."

This year, urban-suburban scholar David Rusk concluded that the status quo won't do any longer. He's not suggesting more "programs." Instead, he says, the city can cut its rate of poverty in half over the next two decades if we adopt policies that spread more poor Baltimoreans throughout six surrounding counties and funnel some property taxes from suburban growth back into the city.

It's a tough sell. The other day, The Sun published, high on our op-ed page, a commentary that likened this whole regionalist approach to a communist dictate and, with cruel sarcasm, characterized the city's poor as barbarians unbound, prepared to destroy the quality of life in Lansdowne.

Well, what do you think will happen if poverty continues to concentrate in Baltimore and the city's tax base continues to erode? Rusk is not the only one who thinks the surrounding counties will suffer the same problems in the long run.

Self-preservation is good motivation. But it's not the only one.

Acknowledging the city's fierce problems stemming from poverty, opening our minds to new ideas about resolving them, sharing the burdens -- this builds a better community, a better region, from Parkton to Cathedral Street and beyond. Turning our backs might be easy, even fashionable. But it's inhumane and foolish.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.