Finding Humanity through Friday Food

By: Gregory Ouellette

November 14, 2011

Since my Freshman year at Georgetown I’ve attended Friday Food. With the group, I help prepare the dinners and head over to Dupont Circle where we distribute the food and converse with the members of the homeless community in that area. For me the conversations have always been the most important part.
Recently I have reflected on my experience at Friday Food and its connection to the goals of the President’s Interfaith Challenge. Friday Food addresses the first goal of the Challenge because people from various faith communities come to Friday Food and work on this project together. Also, the program works to end poverty by providing food for and engaging in conversation with people experiencing homelessness.

This project also addresses the second goal of the Challenge because many students have been able to incorporate experiences from Friday Food into their classes and discuss and reflect on their experiences with professors. Lastly, this event strengthens Georgetown University’s ties with the local community because we reach out to the community of people in Dupont Circle.

I see participating in Friday Food as a do-able social action. It has been a worthwhile way for me to get involved in the D.C. community. Friday Food has also helped further enlighten me to social justice topics that I have been learning about in Justice and Peace Studies classes. I have met inspiring people through Friday Food.

Through Friday Food, I’ve become friends with Jeff who experiences homelessness. He usually stands near the CVS in Dupont Circle and asks for money. He is a very nice, friendly, and generous person. Whenever he notices that we have extra meals, he offers to give them to people he knows who need food. Unfortunately, I have witnessed Jeff be the victim of multiple forms of violence, including direct, structural, and cultural violence.

Jeff experienced direct violence when he was falsely accused of helping people steal from the CVS in Dupont Circle and was forced to spend a night in jail until the police realized that he was not involved in the thefts. He experienced cultural violence when, as a youth, he received a poor education in school, had to drop out of high school, and then later struggled to obtain his GED because he still could not obtain the necessary education to pass. Finally, I regularly see Jeff experience cultural violence, when people walk past him and ignore him, after he has said hello and asked them for money.

I have noticed that many people apparently have this erroneous notion that it is permissible to ignore people asking for money, and consequently treat them as if they are less than human. People who ignore those in need also simultaneously alienate them and support an unjust order that engenders violence. We must remember that when people deny the humanity of other people, they negate their own as well.

Moreover, we must remember that the very essence of being human is that our humanity is caught up, inextricably bound up, in other people’s humanity. Ignoring people is an easy wrong to commit. Personally, before I began working with people experiencing homelessness, I admit that I was guilty of this wrongdoing too. Nevertheless, through my Friday Food experiences, I experienced a change in my way of thinking. My Friday Food experiences transformed my attitude. I now affirm and celebrate the humanity of other people simply by responding to people.

During my experiences with Friday Food, I observed that many people’s families have basically abandoned them. In talking with people about their families, it appears that their families are no longer a part of their lives. I have met people who say that their family lives an hour away in Virginia or an hour away in Maryland, for example. With family members living so close, I would think that their families would help them, take them in, or do something so that their family member would not have to live on the streets.

During these conversations, I have wanted to ask more about people s family lives, but I have been hesitant to ask about what could be a potentially personal and sensitive subject. I see the families abandoning their relative as another form of injustice. People experiencing homelessness often have their basic human needs violated, and members of Friday Food work to provide for these needs.

I am glad that I choose to do Friday Food because it has enlightened me to many aspects of city living that I had not seen as clearly before. I have met some brave, kind, and wise people through my experiences.
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