So yesterday began our first full day of our Alternative Break Trip to Cleveland, the second poorest major city in the United States (Detroit is first, Miami 3rd and our own Buffalo is #4.

We’re living at St Patrick’s Church in the city’s Near West Side (also known as Ohio City). It’s a mix of rich and poor oftentimes with the poor being driven out of these neighborhoods as they gentrify. We took a day to simply tour around the city, to know the neighbors and what is nearby. It was a great learning experience.

Ed (my colleague) and I headed to a local hardware store to get some parts to repair a leaky toilet in the house. Ed’s pretty handy while I am all thumbs usually. The store was small and dank and run by a middle aged Hispanic woman who knew more about nuts and bolts than I’ll ever know. Ed fixed the toilet as a kind gesture to our hosts and off we went to the next adventure.

We ate dinner at St Herman’s, a monastery and soup kitchen. We were guests, not volunteers. And it was indeed disconcerting. We weren’t pretending to be hungry or destitute, rather we were living simply for the night and seeing what the hungry go through on a daily basis.

We had to sign our names to the roll book, and that had a major effect on me. Do I really want people to know I was here? Will someone call my name for dinner? Later on at table, I wasn’t comfortable introducing myself to a family that we ate with. They were nice enough and even offered me a piece of cake, but nameless I remained.

Then it hit me. God knows each one of us by name. When you know someone’s name, that puts them in a new category, doesn’t it? They are no longer “the street people,” “the hungry”, “the homeless.”. But rather they have a name. They ARE someone to be known and worth knowing you as well. Perhaps keeping those who we serve nameless gives us the opportunity to continue to ignore them? Perhaps it’s even a bit sinful to go nameless to another brother or sister?

This morning we returned to St Herman’s and I had a lovely lunch after a morning of hard work, not with a nameless person, but with Oliver. Oliver is retired and struggles with making ends meet. We talked about Buffalo and New York and crooked politicians. A lovely lunch with a nice man. At one point I forgot to get a drink, another time I thought I lost my lunch ticket. Let me tell you it was Oliver who calmed my fears and got me to relax. He even introduced me to the house dog, Humphrey, a Pomeranian mix and a good old dog of 13.

We’ll have some video of our work once I can find a place to upload faster but all in all a good first two days. We’re off to an afterschool program for the rest of today.

Time to learn more names and to let others know mine.

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