Saturday, May 4, 2013

the rest of the 2013 DC spring break trip (sans photos)

Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for pictures before I finish writing about our DC trip. But I’ve found some time here and there, so without pictures and further ado:

Tuesday in DC:

We had a late morning, which was nice after the early morning on Monday. We had breakfast and devotions. Then we split into two groups. Sami had Clarence, Shawn, Cait, and Brenna. I had Mike, Nick, Precious and Jen. We had divided into two groups for the “urban plunge”, a hands-on experience of what it’s like to be homeless in the city. Each person had been given $2.00. As a group, we were given an area to “explore”. We were to use the money to buy lunch and share it with someone. This was to be done by pooling our money together or not (both groups chose to combine their funds). Each group had questions to answer. The questions were things like; where is the closest shelter in the designated area, where is the closest soup kitchen, etc. Sami’s group was given bus tickets, my group had a closer area and we walked. We were to meet back at the housing site by 1pm.

My group had the area around Union Station. Since we had already eaten dinner there Saturday night, we were familiar with the food court. We had an added task of finding a coffee shop (whose name I have forgotten) and finding out why it was special. After asking several people in Union Station, we finally found someone who could give us directions to the coffee shop. We found it about a block and a half away from Union Station. The group asked the barista a few questions and discovered that a church started the coffee shop. The church doesn’t use any of the shops proceeds to pay for the supplies, wages, etc. All of the money made goes back into the neighborhood and the missions that the church provides.

From there, the group decided to find a store where we could buy supplies to make sandwiches for lunch. We headed across our rectangular area in search of a store. We quickly found a convenience store. Bread was $3,49. We only had $10. Could we afford lunchmeat or peanut butter on top of the cost of the bread? We decided to keep searching for a grocery store. Precious asked the person at the counter where was the closest grocery store? A customer told us that is was only a few miles away. We explained that we were walking and that was probably outside of our “area”. We left the store and kept walking. We found a police officer and asked him where could we find a soup kitchen/shelter. He told us about one, on the very edge of our map. We found a church and asked them if they had any food or program where we could get food. They did not. We headed toward the shelter the policeman recommended. When we got there, I realized we were on the front side of DC Central Kitchen, which is a shelter. Actually the building houses a couple of shelters as well as the kitchen. We walked into the shelter and found two women who worked there who were willing to talk to us. Jen, Nick, Mike and Precious all asked good questions. The main shelter, which is the biggest with several hundred beds, allowed people to stay, no questions asked. The only restriction is that after seven nights if you weren’t there, your bed was given to someone else. But those did not have to be consecutive nights. The shelter has showers, laundry facilities, and no “check-out” time.

I’ll admit, it was pretty rough outside. The two women suggested we go back outside to talk to residents to get better answers to our questions. We did. We had one young gentleman who came over to us asking for money. He was high (Precious had seen him smoking a joint before we went in to the shelter) and wanted money for food. Since we had a limited budget, and hadn’t yet decided what we would do for lunch, we told him we didn’t have money to spare. We talked with him for several minutes. I noticed several people who walked by and (to me) appeared to be making sure this man wasn’t harassing us. I checked my watch and told the group we needed to go figure out what we were going to do for lunch. We ended up going back to Union Station. We found the best deal at Burger King. However, as we were walking around checking prices on meals, we were offered samples. It seemed like it could be a pretty nice place to hang out if you were homeless. It had a public bathroom and plenty of food.

While we were walking around accepting free samples, Nick and Jen thought they had found a good deal; 12 pieces of chicken for $8. It sounded good, so as the rest of us were walking over to that counter I asked Precious if she was okay with chicken. Point blank, she looked at me and said, “Emily, I’m black. Of course chicken is okay.” We busted out laughing. I had been concerned because her acid reflux had been pretty bad. I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t upset her stomach/throat. Clearly I was not paying attention to the color of her skin. That may have been the best line of the trip.

The chicken counter turned out to be false advertising so that was when we decided Burger King was the way to go.

While Mike and Precious were waiting for the chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers, Jen found a man she had met at SOME the day before. She asked if we could join him, and he said sure. We sat down to eat and to listen to him share what he knew about organic farming. It turns out, he knew a lot about organic farming. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 12:45pm. We had fifteen minutes to get back and it was going to take us longer than that to walk the two + miles. I gave Jen & Precious the “we-have-to-go” look. We thanked the guy for sharing time with us, excused ourselves and left him with the extra burgers.

We made it back by ten after one and beat the other group by several minutes since they were dependent on the bus.

Once everyone was back, we piled into the van and headed to our afternoon site. It was “The People’s Church”. This church had left the downtown and moved out to the Maryland suburbs. They had been aiming to purchase property in a strip mall, but after a year of praying and waiting, their offer was turned down. However, God had bigger plans and they found a property that seemed to be a better offer. Not only did it have a church but it also had a parsonage and a former Christian school. This was way more then the congregation wanted but decided God was telling them to do more. The pastor, Mike, and his wife Terri met us at the school. Through CSM they had been able to strip the school of it’s molding interior (it’s not old, maybe c. 1990’s, but it had been neglected), and begin the organization process. The church had been renovated by their sweat equity and has just been open since the autumn of ’12. They still aren’t sure what they will do with the school, but in order to pass inspections and keep their construction loans, they have to stage the classrooms. We set to work organizing and moving stuff. A few people headed over to the parsonage and ripped out the carpet. It was just a few hours that we were there, but we made significant headway.

From there we went to eat dinner at Thai Orchid. They served us family style. After the first two plates were served and our plates were piled high, they brought out another dish. I was sitting across from Nick. His eyes got really big; more food? I laughed and told him don’t forget about dessert. The dishes were all delicious. Dessert was an egg roll-type phyllo dough with honey. It was also delicious.

We stopped at the Jefferson Memorial and held our debriefing in the basement/museum. It was a little loud since many of the monuments are open twenty-four hours.

We tried going to Pinkberry for dessert #2 (because that’s how we roll), but we got there just after 9pm and they were closed. There was a milkshake & burger joint across the street, so we went over there instead. Dessert #2 was also delicious.

Wednesday in DC:

Wednesday morning, we woke up to snow and news that the city was basically shut down. Our morning site was not an option (it was Seabury Age-in-Place, but I don’t know what that is, perhaps a home for seniors?) so Sami let the City Coordinator know that we were willing to go back to “The People’s Church” and by 10am we were headed back there. They were so grateful for our help that Mike’s mom offered to buy us a “hot lunch” because our sack lunches weren’t good enough. She bought us Popeye’s chicken.

By the afternoon the snow had melted so we headed to the originally scheduled site: St. Thomas More. This was a residential facility for low-income persons with disabilities or medical trauma. We split up into the same groups from the day before and went from room to room to see if anyone wanted/needed company. Sami’s group started at the top (which housed the patients who had the most severe injuries) and my group started on the second floor (this first floor consisted of the dining room, offices and other public spaces). We split up into two groups. I was with Nick. Precious, Mike and Cait went off together.

Nick and I met a man who was waiting on a nurse to take him away for some tests, but we briefly discussed sports. He was watching an old football game, and even though we were in DC and he was from New York, he was a Dallas fan. We met up with the other three and they had quickly burned through the floor. Doors were closed or people just weren’t in the mood to talk. We moved on. The next person Nick and I talked to was a nice woman who was probably in her fifties, Maria. It became clear that she had some head trauma. Her memory seemed to be good, but she had no idea why she was there. She used to drive the bus for a University (I have now forgotten which one). She liked flowers, and she liked to draw. One of the things we were instructed to do was to ask if we could pray for or with the people we spoke to. Nick and I prayed with her. Then we moved on to meet someone else. We couldn’t find any more open doors, or people who were awake, so we found Mike, Cait and Precious. They were talking with a nice woman who was 98 years old, Ann. We spent forty-five minutes with her. She shared that travel is very important along with stories and much laughter. It was about ninety degrees in her room, so I was making sure no one was about to pass out (including myself). By the time we finished praying with her, we decided to go find the other group. Instead, they found us! We put in our dinner orders, (Jamaican) and on the way to the restaurant we stopped by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

I was amazed. It reminded me of the cathedrals we saw in Europe. Every inch of space was covered in mosaics! Kelsey gave us ten minutes. We took forty-five. I didn’t even make it to the basement! It was more than breathtaking. Words and pictures will not do it justice. If you are ever in DC and you appreciate churches/architecture/art, please go see this. You will not be sorry. Just allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in.

Dinner was actually my least favorite. I had the curry chicken, which was the blandest choice. Actually, I split my dinner with Jen and Brenna. Jen had the jerk chicken (the spiciest) and Brenna had the third (the sweetest). However, after the lunch we’d had earlier, how can you beat fried chicken?

After dinner, we headed back over to the Lincoln Memorial to retake our group photo. On the way, we stopped at the White House, which we had not yet seen up close. Half of the group decided to walk around to the other side (the East Lawn) but the rest were too cold so we went back to the van. Sami was with the group walking around and decided to test the security when they almost cut through the lawn. Security is tight, and they were told to turn around and go back the other way.

From there we were able to find street parking to see the Lincoln and Vietnam War memorials. Sami snapped a picture of the Nurses Vietnam memorial (for Judy). On our way to the Lincoln Memorial, we ran into another group from CSM. Their host wasn’t sure how to get back and his phone had died. They did not have a gps either. He asked if he could call Kelsey, using Sami’s cell phone. He decided to play a prank on her and pretended to be a security guard. He had Sami and me laughing, apparently he did not fake-out Kelsey. We all headed back to the site, with the other van following ours. At a stop light in Chinatown, Kelsey and I held a Chinese fire drill. Up until that point I didn’t know that had been on my bucket list, but I decided it should have been and has now been crossed off.

We had our debriefing and did our part to clean up. Thursday morning we were on the road by 8:25am. We stopped at the Capitol and took a “re-do” group photo there. We made it back to GR by 8:35pm.

That was our 2013 spring break trip. Hopefully there will be photos to add... they're out there somewhere!

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