On North Broadway St. in Knoxville, next to the Salvation Army, is a large area under the bridge where I-40 passes over the street and surrounding area. The overpass provides shelter for hundreds of Knoxville’s homeless. There are several “camps” of people who live here and do their best to survive with the help of the people of the “Red Shield,” the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission, and others who stop by to offer help by dropping off food and clothing. Today we were among those who stopped by with food.
We pulled up at 2:00 in our Volunteer Balloon Decor van, carrying 110 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dozens of Dunkin Donuts, 10 bags of Clementines, and 165 cups of coffee. We pulled into a sort of driveway area immediately off N. Broadway, just far enough in to get our van off the road. It was raining and had been raining hard most all morning. The ground was saturated and water was pouring into the area from the I-40 downspouts. The area smelled of human feces and urine. It was not pleasant.
Within a minute of parking, a crowd of 50 or more people pressed in on the van to see what we had brought. I asked everyone to be patient as we set up our tables and told them what we had for them. They lined up and waited patiently while we prepared the tables with our gifts of food and coffee. We weren’t prepared for the crowd that immediately descended upon us. We had brought a sound system to play Christmas carols and songs, but there was no time for that. These folks were hungry. Within a few minutes we were handing out sandwiches and donuts. Within 15 minutes most of the initial crowd had been served and things slowed down a bit.
About that time WATE Channel 6 news came by. They had been shooting some footage at the Salvation Army and my friend Jim Wogan, former WATE sports newsman, tipped them off that we would be under the bridge at 2:00. I was interviewed and I think there’s a good chance I’ll be on the news tonight. Update: Here’s the clip that appeared on WATE News last night:
If WATE does a story, I hope they will convey my message that the Pope has declared a Year of Mercy and Christmas seemed like a very good day to practice the corporal work of mercy of feeding the hungry. We came today because we have been blessed with so much and it’s vitally important that we are generous with the gifts we’ve been given, just as the Jesus was so generous with his divine life that he humbled himself to become man on this Christmas day so that we might have our sins forgiven and enter into his eternal divine life. A Christian is one who loves his neighbor as God has loved us. Feeding the hungry is but one of the acts we are called by Christ to do to demonstrate this love of neighbor.
After the interview we continued to hand out the remaining sandwiches and donuts over a period of a couple of hours. We met a lovely couple who had brought ziti lunch boxes and plan to return monthly. I also met a woman who was looking for her friends who were with the Catholic Workers that she was to meet. She thought we might be with their group and didn’t know much about them, other than these two were friends of hers.
In the final hour of our stay, Christine brought out her balloons and made penguins, dogs, ducks and roses for our new homeless acquaintances. They really enjoyed watching her twist balloons into these creations. She commented that she thought they enjoyed watching her more than the children she entertains at birthday parties. Many of them had never seen someone practice the art of balloon twisting before. It brought a smile to their faces.
I realized today how much I enjoy being with those who are poor and hungry, even if only for a few hours a month. I am reminded of Jesus’ promises found in Luke 6:20-21:
The people we met and fed today are truly blessed in the eyes of the Lord. I’m certain this is why the experience of spending just a few short hours with them today was so rewarding. We plan to return monthly and hope to bring others with us so we can share this experience with our friends and together participate in God’s work.
There is certainly nothing better one can do than to to cooperate with God and do his work. This is what brings lasting joy and peace.