By Luis Chacon!
On Sunday, September 29, we had the opportunity to do a volunteer experience feeding the homeless at Venice Beach. The event organizers were Restless Heart Foundation, who prepared the food packages, Tamara (St. Joseph Salesian representative), representatives from the Salesian Volunteers Program, Martín (volunteer from Ecuador), and Br. Freddy (SDB from Venezuela).
We began with a Mass celebration at Saint Joseph Salesian Retreat House presided over by Fr. John Puntino. Afterward, we had a quick breakfast and started preparations for our expedition. We were able to fill almost three cars with food, pillows, shoes, clothes, and other items. At 11:00 am, we said our opening prayer, then Juan Guzman (representative and founder of Restless Heart Organization) arrived and gave us almost 50 bags of individual food and water.
When we got to Venice Beach, we began distributing food packages, shoes, and clothes. The food packages had a granola bar, water, and a peanut butter sandwich. We also gave them cup noodles, cans with sausages and chips. The most asked for items were water and cup noodles, and those with dogs asked us for extra cans of sausages.
We were surprised that the homeless people were mainly friendly, respectful, and cared for one another like family. For example, a young adult around the age of 25 asked us for extra packages for his friends and even took us to them so that they could get food packages too. There was also another homeless man covering his friend's face with a piece of cloth while he was lying in the middle of the sand.
During our day, we met several elderly war veterans. Some of them did not want to accept food from us, but the other homeless asked us for the ration they had refused since they would take it if it came from one of them. They knew that although the other homeless did not want to accept the food, they did need it.
We finished distributing food around 6:00 pm, said a prayer, and returned to our homes. I still had some cup noodles in my car and some food packages when I returned to my community in Boyle Heights. Before arriving in my community, I decided to distribute the food to the homeless a few blocks from my community.
I understand that caring for the homeless is not the primary mission of the Salesian charism, but rather the poorest and most at-risk children and young people; however, working with the homeless can help sensitize young people and unite them to work under the same objective. To be a volunteer is to know that we can make a change in the world. To be a Salesian volunteer is to make that change in the world from a spirit of joy, knowing that we are not left empty-handed but with a full heart when we give.
Often we are tempted to stay in the "natural order" of things and forget that the human being is beyond the natural order, in the "supernatural order." The natural order is what we can see, perceive, and judge according to our senses and criteria. The supernatural order is what we cannot see with our eyes or feel with our senses. Yet, we often walk through the streets, and we see our neighbors only in the plane of the natural order. Thus, we are left only with what our eyes see and with what our senses perceive. For example, if we walk down a street and see a homeless person, we may only see a being outside the socioeconomic structure, someone who does not produce and only consumes. We see someone we should fear and distance ourselves from, and we'll even walk across to walk on a different sidewalk.
When we speak of the supernatural order, we refer to what our eyes do not see and the dignity that we all have for being children of God. The homeless that we find in the streets have that dignity, and there is nothing in the world that can take that away. Human beings have a responsibility to each other. We all depend on each other, and we are all related and connected. In common logic, the homeless need us to survive. However, it is not the poor who need us; it is we who need the poor to remember our human nature to remember that God decided to become flesh so that we could follow him and learn from him to be like him: love.
Not all of us can become rich, but we can all become poor materially and spiritually. There is nothing more sincere than recognizing that we need others and that others need us. Charity is an expression of love. To have charity with the poor is to return to our divine nature and to live authentically. It is to want to be like the Being of God, to be of love.
Soon we will have other local and international opportunities to share life with the poorest and most needy, but also with children with limited resources, in youth centers, and even taking care of "the common home" (expeditions to clean beaches, streets, etc.). Stay informed of all these opportunities to help and make a difference in the world with the Salesian Volunteers Program!