Editors note: We at CCD wanted to repost this story today in order to encourage our readers to get involved this weekend. You can contact Anthony’s Plot as indicated in this piece or you can contact 350 WS a local activist group that focuses on environmental issues. They plan to prepare the meal on Thursday (Sept. 19) night at the church to be heated on Friday (Sept 20) for the 5pm meal. They need volunteers to help purchase, prepare and serve. If you cannot be there in person, but would like to help 350WS can use a donation iof food or money with which to buy food. You can contact them by emailing Debra Demske at firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2013 Festival will run from Sept. 19-25th.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Winston-Salem’s Anthony’s Plot, an organization tasked with outreach to our homeless population, is holding an event called the Festival of Shelters in order to provide a place of rest, some comfort, and some sustenance for our growing numbers of homeless. Set up in a lot provided by the Centernary United Methodist Church next to their Loaves & Fishes building the event began Sunday September, 30th and will run until Sunday October 7th.
The small encampment is made of cardboard boxes, donated tents and awnings along with signs covered in Bible verses, and words of encouragement. On Wednesday, brightly colored benches had been placed on the sidewalk so that anyone who happened by might take a load off unencumbered by the bars that have been welded into all of the benches downtown in an effort to keep any homeless from being able to lay down or get comfortable on them. The Festival also provides a small “living” room with several chairs and a couch set up underneath a tent so that people can relax, eat, and fellowship together in a safe, comfortable environment.
The Festival of Shelters is based on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Booths or the Feat of Tabernacles. Traditional celebrated in late September until late October, the festival follows Yom Kippur. According to tradition, once the Jewish people were settled in Palestine and following 40 years of wandering in Egypt they were to remember their wandering and homelessness once a year by living in a tent or tabernacle during the festival. “I think it is cool that the Old Testament had a God that camped out with the homeless.” said Anthony’s Plot organizer Russ May said.
An ordained Moravian Pastor, Mr. May told CCD that, “We decided that this was the perfect season to remember with our bodies, faith hearts, and our current relationships people who are homeless.” Until Wednesday mid-morning rain had been a constant at the small encampment, downtown across from the Central Library. Mary Guarino has braved the elements and remained in a tent for the duration- except when she goes to work at her job. When she is not at work Ms. Guarino is helping to distribute food to the people who come to the festival seeking a meal. Several volunteers make hundreds of sandwiches as well as a main meal served hot and daily at beginning at 4:30pm.
“What this city needs is more affordable housing, not less. There are people right now who work AND who live in shelters.” Ms. Guarino pointed out. While we were talking one older gentleman approached and received a sand-which, a snack bar, and a bottled water. His bald head was pink from the sun and his hands shook as he accepted the food. Guarino pointed out that he is a retired man on the very cusp of being foreclosed on and spends his days inside of the Library looking for work on the computers and trying to research and find some way to stay in the home he has lived in for decades. “It’s crazy we’re kicking our homeless out on the street.” Ms Guarino said. “We’re [Winston-Salem] are on a 10-year plan to address homelessness in Winston-Salem. It’s year seven… shouldn’t we be seeing some results by now?”
“We need to move more people into housing and surround them with a community because it works better for everyone.” said Mr. May. Russ stresses that the most important aspect of the Festival of shelters is to “REMEMBER”. “Remember that even if we are doing well God is with us. We didn’t do this on our own- we did it with other people and God. We have to find ways to reconnect the human family and build community so that each person can be able to make our community, make our city, better.”
Russ showed us the small “living” room set up and pointed out that a place to simply rest comfortably is a fundamental human need and right. Mr. May referred to the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 11:28 that are at the beginning of this article. “With those words,” May began, “Jesus is confirming the personhood of each human being. We need to extend that invitation and recognize the human dignity in each, individual person.”
The Festival of Shelters will be on this spot until Sunday October 7th. There may be nothing better the residents of Camel City could do this week than head downtown and visit with Russ, Mary, and their friends for a while. Sit down. Take a load off, and just talk to the people you meet. You never know what you might learn if you just, for a moment, stop and take the time.
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