Our Annual Appeal
Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House
1524 NW 21, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106, help line: 405-557-0436, other calls; 405-613-4688
He looked like a Hispanic Dr. Zhivago - some of you may remember the scene from the famous movie by the same name where Zhivago undertakes a winter trek on foot to reunite with his wife. Wrapped in a blanket, he staggered along, icicles hanging from his beard and mustache.
It was a freezing cold morning here in Oklahoma City recently, a blizzard blew fiercely down upon the entire area, and Sean and I were out and about, creeping around south and west of downtown OKC at maybe 5 or 10 MPH, through the snow and ice, handing out caps and gloves. This particular man didn't have a blanket, in fact all he had was a windbreaker, and I wished I had a coat to give him. The radio said the temperature was 20 degrees, but the wind blasting down the "city canyons" of downtown brought that down close to a wind chill of zero. He seemed happy to get the warm hat and jersey gloves. Another man we met that morning, also clad in a light jacket, sang out, "You're right on time," as if we had an appointment, which I suppose was true enough, in the way the Lord works out such things.
Marcus Evans said that someone called him and wanted him to tell them about a Catholic Worker "success story" - some tale that we could tell of some deserving soul who through no fault of his or her own fell into grievous poverty, and we Catholic Workers came along and brought them some food and they got strong and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and now they are no longer poor and everybody lived ever after. He said to me, "Should I tell them about someone I know who has sex with her landlord to pay rent for herself and her children?"
There was a homeless family we found, the woman was pregnant, they couldn't get shelter together because they weren't married, so we paid for the license, they got shelter, but they didn't follow all the rules and were asked to leave, and disappeared into our history.
And then there is the guy we know, a veteran, who is pursued by giant radioactive rats and lives on the streets of downtown Oklahoma. I remember a previous cold spell, several years ago, when Marcus and a friend went downtown and tried to get him to go to a motel room they planned to pay for, but he refused.
We have a lot of these kinds of stories. Some of them aren't very "picturesque." People ask me, "How do you know the people you help are deserving?" The answer to that is simple. Jesus said to feed the hungry and clothe the naked so if somebody is hungry we give food. Out gift is not conditional on an examination of why they are in the situation they are in. Maybe they are hungry because they lost their job or because they spent all their money on booze, drugs, or gambling. Whatever their circumstances may be, our gift is love in action to them, and we pray that it will be a touch of God's grace that will open doors of healing and sustenance. When you do this work, and go out and about casting bread upon the waters, you never know what may happen down the line, for good or for ill. The call is not to count successes, but to be faithful and obedient to the will of God.
And so it has come to pass that in these days of the reign of the culture of death, for seven years we have been "opportunists for the poor", going here and there, keeping our eyes and hearts open, delivering food, handing out hats and gloves and socks and toiletries, making little hospitality bags, and a hundred and one other things - a mattress here, a set of dishes there, some pots and pans, maybe a couch or two. A water bill. An electric bill. Veterinary treatment for a dog. Prescriptions for a mother. Some people we see over and over again, they become friends and partners, they pray for us and we pray for them, we love them when we see them and mourn them when they die. They give us "Widow's Mites" in cards with 2 quarters taped inside that say "thanks". (John Paul II called this "building a civilization of life and love." )
Some of these people we will never see again. What will happen to the Hispanic Zhivago we met briefly last week, icicles in his beard and mustache, a light coat on his shoulders that was too small for him? Where did he come from to end up walking on a street in downtown Oklahoma City during a blizzard and ice storm? Where will he go? What will happen to him? I can ask the same questions about the dozens of other men and women we met briefly that morning. I won't get many answers. I do know this - "Do not forget to be kind to strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares."
There is one question, however, that I can answer - why didn't I give him my coat?
I could go and buy another coat. My coat is three years old. Lots of people would tell me that I need to buy new clothes anyway. I was in a heated pickup. I had on three layers of clothes. Four pairs of socks. I tell you why, because it was freezing cold and at the time I didn't even think about it. That's how hard my heart is. Jesus was right there, and I was wearing a warm coat, and he was freezing, and I kept my coat. What would St. John Chrysostom say to me about this? No doubt he would have blistered my ears about the hardness of my heart and given me a year of hard and difficult penances. Now I sit by a warm fire, in the comfort of my favorite chair, and I write these words with no homeless Jesus standing immediately in front of me, waiting for me to get my disordered priorities straightened out.
Some of you reading this are probably saying, "Bob, you are way too hard on yourself. After all, you were out there in a freezing blizzard that morning trying to do something practical." Which is true enough, as far as it goes, but the Catholic Worker way is to never quite be satisfied with what you are able to do for the Jesus who wanders about in such distressing disguises. "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, only say the Word and I shall be healed."
Each year for the seven years I have written these appeals, our work has gotten more intense. In the last 12 months, we made more than 2700 deliveries to nearly 9,000 people, and that involved 150,000 pounds of food.
Over the next 12 months, there is more work to be done. The economic situation for the poor will not improve, it will get worse. More people will fall through the cracks of the existing safety net and call us for help. There will be more homeless people on the street, more heads and hands without hats or gloves during the frigid cold of winter.
There is good news, however. The government has officially determined that there are no hungry people in the United States. There are people with "low food security" and "extremely low food security", but these people aren't "hungry". I am sure we all feel better knowing that with a stroke of a bureaucrat's pen, hunger can be eliminated. I guess the Hispanic Zhivago we met lacked adequate "clothing security".
Catholic Workers, being practical anarchists, are dubious about the utility of the bureaucratic method, so even though the government confidently assures us of the lack of hunger, I think that we will continue to do what we do.
Besides these corporal works of mercy, we confront and challenge the structures of sin that create poverty and war, violence and injustice. Over six hundred thousand people, from 115 different countries, visited one of our five websites this past year. We produced one edition of our newspaper, and another edition is almost finished, although we don't presently have the money to print and mail it. Members of our community are involved with organizations that support life by opposing the death penalty, the war in Iraq, and the scourge of abortion. We stand against redevelopment projects that destroy the neighborhoods of the poor, and oppose cuts in public transit services that would impact thousands of low income workers. We continue to advocate a little way of justice and peace, and give people the information and practical skills they need to live frugally and more sustainably as good stewards of God's Creation.
Even though it was just Sean and me in the pickup last week, there was a host of witnesses riding with us. Many of you who are reading this were there too, and you probably didn't even know it. The week previously, somebody gave us bags of gloves and hats and socks which we thus had on hand to give to Jesus over and over and over again. Someone also gave us money which we used at a dollar store to buy more hats and gloves.
My invitation to you is to ride with us this next year as we go out and seek the Jesus who comes to us in such distressing disguises. Your financial donation, your gift of hats and gloves and socks, bags of food, warm blankets, toiletries goes to Jesus. We have a growing need for volunteer help, some details are below about those opportunities. Your generosity makes our work possible and fruitful. We pray for our benefactors every day, and we hope you are praying for us too.
"Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship."
Your little brother in the Lord,
Bob Waldrop, for the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker community
1524 NW 21, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106, help line: 405-557-0436, other calls; 405-613-4688
www.justpeace.org | www.bettertimesinfo.org | www.energyconservationinfo.org | www.oklahomacityrail.org | www.oklahomaclothing.org | firstname.lastname@example.org
Our 2006 Wish List
Non-perishable food (see note below on food donations)
small toiletries, especially hand lotion
small packages of over the counter medications (tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen)
pots, pans, dishes
Commercial catering containers for transporting hot food and hot beverages (this is a new wish list item this year)
Prayers for us and the people we help
Holy cards and devotional materials to give away
A farm (about 80 acres, central Oklahoma location)
brown paper full size grocery sacks
Deliver Groceries to Poor
We always need volunteers to help do deliveries of food to the poor who don't have transportation to get to a food bank. We generally do this on the 3rd or 4th Saturday of each month. You can call our help line at 557-0436 and listen to the message to find out the delivery day for the current month. We start at 9 AM. Volunteers can come and help bag the groceries, and then we need people to do the deliveries. Groups are great. There is no need to check in with us before volunteering for Delivery Day, just show up. We meet at the Dorothy Day Center at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, 4909 North State Street. State Street runs along the eastern boundary of the St. Charles parish property. Sometimes we don't have enough volunteers on Delivery Day, so we also need back-up volunteers who could make deliveries during the week following Delivery Day. And we could also use volunteers to do "Fast Response", which is take a delivery to someone who needs food right away. Contact Bob Waldrop, at 613-4688 or email@example.com about becoming a Back-Up delivery volunteer, or a "Fast Response" delivery volunteer. We will put you on a list and as need arises, you will get a phone call and if you can help fine, and if you can't, we will call the next person on the list.
We deliver several tons of food every month, and we are happy to receive donations of food to give to the poor. The most important foods that we need are listed below, ranked by their order of importance. The ranking is based on balancing the questions, "How difficult is this food for us to get", "How expensive is it", and "How important is it". We strongly urge you to think beyond the "a few cans of generic green beans" when you think about donating food to be given to the poor. Powdered milk hasn't been available at all for several months. Peanut butter is a very important, high protein, comfort food. Canned fruit is an important source of nutrients. Canned meat, soups, and chili are always in short supply. Cooking oil and sugar are useful for preparing other foods, and are expensive to buy. We encourage people to have food drives at their schools, parishes, or workplaces and collect food items on this list for us to deliver to the poor. Donated foods should be delivered to the Dorothy Day Center, call Bob Waldrop 613-4688 or Marcus Evans 740-0697 to arrange a delivery time and to make sure someone will be there to let you in.
1. Powdered milk | 2. Peanut butter | 3. Canned fruit | 4. Canned meats | 5. Spaghetti sauce | 6. Canned soup | 7. Cooking oil | 8. Sugar (2 lb bags) |
We use financial donations to buy food to give to the poor, provide other occasional help with medical expenses, rent, utilities, gasoline, in situations we come across, to pay for the hosting fees for our web sites and the cost of our help line, to publish our newspaper and other various tracts and broadsheets. In accordance with Catholic Worker tradition, we do not offer federal tax deductions for donations to the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House. Checks can be made payable to Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, and mailed to 1524 NW 21, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73106. We can accept donations via PayPal, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .