November 23, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Luke 10:23-37: Loving neighbors as thyself

Shirley Vogler MeisterThanksgiving weekend reminds us to count our blessings.

At the Thanksgiving table in our family, we take turns expressing gratitude for something or someone special.

Listening to everyone, I also think of those who are not able to spend time with loved ones as well as those who are having community meals in shelters or church halls and those who will not eat at all.

In the weeks before Thanksgiving, mail usually brings a number of pleas from local and out-of-town organizations for donations to help make the holiday meaningful to men, women and children who are hungry and/or homeless. I can only imagine how stressful it must be to not know where the next meal will come from or where to sleep safely.

I had a glimpse of such scenarios this summer when I was given a tour by Emmeline Sparks at Horizon House ( near downtown Indianapolis.

Sparks is a friend of my grandson and began working there as a special events coordinator after graduating from Purdue University in May. She works via Americorps’ VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America).

The first thing I noticed during her tour is that she referred to the homeless as “neighbors.” I had never considered this before. Perhaps, in most cases, they’re not physically living next door, but their presence is seen and felt in many areas of most large cities as well as in small towns. They are our neighbors, and we are theirs.

Years ago, in my Illinois hometown’s downtown area, my mother and I noticed a dirty, disheveled man who was lying unconscious on a sidewalk. It was Mom who quickly went forth to try to help him. Onlookers nearby told us that he had a seizure and an ambulance was on the way. Someone called him “a bum.” I figured he was homeless. I’m much more knowledgeable about such things now than I was then.

A few months ago, I learned from a local newspaper that there are free pamphlets available that explain the right approaches to take when encountering a panhandler. With the help of other agencies and organizations, the pamphlets exist thanks to Indianapolis Downtown Inc. ( or 317-237-2222).

They list several places providing food assistance, including the Cathedral Kitchen at 1350 N. Pennsylvania St., which is just east of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. They also name some emergency shelters and outreach places.

Sparks points out the importance of helping needy neighbors all year, not just during the holidays, especially since there is no government mandate that addresses the need to end homelessness.

“It is the community who is held accountable for the socially displaced,” Sparks said. “Improving the quality of life for those who share your sidewalks will in turn make the community as a whole flourish.” †

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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