(Page 2 of 3)

Glen Burnie's homeless share what they have for holiday

At Emmaus Center's third annual Thanksgiving dinner, community members help each other

November 19, 2011|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

Members of the community provide all the labor at Emmaus.

"When you have a little sweat equity in something, you treasure it even more," Schaefle says.

The center also provides classes in anger management, training in job skills such as computer repair, and individual counseling, all free of charge; and through its pantry service, it distributes two tons of canned food per month.

It also offers something Jansen calls even more crucial to the homeless: a routine.

He leads a prayer service every weekday at 8 a.m., a Bible study at 11. "We start on time, whether you're here or not," he says with a grin.

The sessions usually draw between 10 and 25 people. Based in Scripture but accessible to anyone interested in what matters in life, they include plenty of time for attendees to share ideas.

One morning, somebody came up with a good one.

Convicted

Several churches, shelters and social-service centers in Anne Arundel County offer Thanksgiving Day meals for the homeless, including a handful in Glen Burnie.

At the Emmaus Center, it's the homeless who serve others.

Someone first suggested the idea during a prayer meeting in 2008.

"I can't remember who came up with it, but everyone there responded right away. It flows out of a question people are always asking around here: 'How can I help?'" says Gaffney, 56, known to the congregation as Amma Trish. ("Amma" is Aramaic for "mother.")

"We live in a world that says, 'You'd better be rich, strong, talented, good-looking and powerful,'" Jansen adds. "An ethic of 'me-me-me' seems to have taken the place of [Jesus' teachings]. But we become ourselves when we put other people first. Everyone in the world can do that. You don't need a thing."

On a recent morning, the pair lead a dozen mostly homeless or ex-homeless through a call-and-response reading. The group includes Hudgens, Schaefle, a woman struggling with alcoholism, a man battling paranoid schizophrenia and an ex-penitentiary inmate, his head shaved and his arms scored with tattoos.

All listened intently.

"'No one has ever seen God,'" Jansen says, reading a passage from the New Testament. "Yet if we love one another, [he] remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.' Can anyone say what that means?"

"Well, yes, God is invisible," the ex-convict, Glen Day, chimes in. "But if we're loving to others, and they're loving in return, you can see [the divine] in action."

If anybody exemplifies that kind of teaching, it's Day. Thirty-nine years ago, he was a drug addict living in Harford County, and one day he decided to rob his next-door neighbor's house.

It went tragically wrong. Day's gun went off — inadvertently, he says — killing the man. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Released on parole in 2003 after serving 21 years, Day moved to northern Anne Arundel County, where he held a few jobs in fast-food service, met a woman named Sue, married her on impulse, then fell out with her, ending up on the streets.

He slept most nights in a stairwell in the Empire Building in downtown Glen Burnie.

"At least it was warm, and a little more safe," says Day, 50, adding that passers-by often strike homeless people, throw things at them or set off firecrackers nearby.

One day in 2008, he heard that the Emmaus Center, then just opened, was holding a barbecue Mass. He showed up to help cook. "I felt like I was home," he says.

He became a regular at the center. He reconciled with Sue last year — they renewed their wedding vows at Emmaus in 2010 — and became a deacon this year.

The pair live in an apartment around the corner and are now on the full-time staff.

"He's not the same person he was," says Sue Day, who becomes emotional at the mention of the coming feast.

"I have family, and I love them, but I'd rather spend Thanksgiving with [the homeless] than anyone else," she says. "Yes, there are a few who are drug addicts, bums who are working the system, but 75 percent of them are just ordinary people who had a bad break and can't get up."

At the service's end, Glen Day approaches Father Ed to talk Thanksgiving. He served at the earlier dinners and he's planning a pickup of vegetables and side dishes at the Anne Arundel Food Bank in a few days.

"We'll be doing turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, gravy — the whole nine yards," he says.

The center hopes to be prepared to serve 120, though it's likely only about 60 will attend.

"We'll be ready for lots of people, and if we have leftovers, we'll give them away," Glen Day says. "We try not to keep a thing."

On the menu

Jansen says many social-service agencies — including the nearby House of Hope, a close partner — provide the homeless with logistical essentials: getting ID cards and numbers, helping them navigate social service bureaucracy and more.

But because demand is so great these days, they have no chance to provide a personal connection to the homeless.

That leaves Emmaus with a niche.

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.