From the archive: Friendship Park mission then and now

December 15, 2022 | by Linda Kelly

From the archive: Friendship Park mission then and now


Author's note: ​This article is a reprint that originally appeared in The Connection in 2001. Rev. Linda Kelly has returned to the Side-by-Side listening ministry she founded and directed for 12 years in Friendship Park, now as a staff member of Loaves and Fishes, appointed there mid-year by Bishop Sally Dyck. Donations of Bibles, small crosses or pendants, and qualified volunteers are needed. Contact revlinda@sacloaves.org for more information.
 
Compared to the overwhelming holiday glitter and excess in the stores, the scarcity of belongings of my homeless friends is astounding. I wonder: is it our spiritual emptiness that propels us to fill up with over the top decorations, gift-giving and buying, constant busyness to pass the season as we attempt to make Christmas come alive?

Yet Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, was born among and ministered to ones like the homeless guests of Loaves and Fishes who have nothing. Ask a homeless guest how they are and quite often the reply will be, “I’m blessed.” Their lives are hard. Every day is a struggle for food to eat, a place to sleep. Every day brings long lines to stand in – for financial assistance, medical needs, to get their children back, to hopefully find a way out of poverty.

Friendship Park at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento, is a place for the homeless to receive services: a lunch ticket, hospitality and welcome, a haven from the harsh realities of living on the street. Open from 7:00am to 2:45pm Monday through Friday, it is the place I am appointed as a conference missionary and spiritual director. Friendship Park welcomes 800 or more homeless people a day, as well as their “mobile homes,” shopping carts filled with belongings, bicycles pulling trailers full of sleeping bags, tarps, clothes, food, the necessities of life.

Blessed? Yes, for some Christmas is a devastatingly lonely time of year, too painful to remember or talk about. Many have lost contact or been rejected by mothers, fathers, siblings, children. Many of our homeless guests were abused by those dearest to them. Yet, in the village of Loaves and Fishes, there is community and hope.

In our morning prayer circle we share scripture and hear the stories of hope and recovery, the gift of God being with us, the faith we cling to. One man just released from prison and now homeless said, “I’ve learned that I have to depend on God. I have no other choice.” Others hearing his story, offered their own encouragement. Then he shared devastating news just received from his doctor: that he had developed gangrene in his foot due to undiagnosed diabetes. He would leave our prayer circle and head to the hospital to check in for treatment.

After others shared their joys and prayer needs we stood in a circle holding hands.

Two more guests and a staff member joined us. Under the cold, gray sky of winter, we were now 16 men and women, Black, White, Hispanic, Filipino, 20-year-olds to 50-somethings, ex-cons, prostitutes, recovering addicts, mentally ill, the lost, the broken, all lifted prayers to God.
           
What are the real gifts of Christmas? A friendly “hello,” someone that calls you by name, sharing your last pinch of smoking tobacco, giving away your extra blanket, huddling together to stay warm, watching each other’s back when camping outside, a bed in a shelter, praying together, thanking God for waking us up, for the hot coffee, for a dry place to sit, for friends who hear our story and love us.
           
Maybe the homeless are richer than we who have homes. Richer in the deeper values that bring us true abundance. Life is so much more than what we own or how we dress, what we drive or where we live. Christ comes to dwell wherever we are, no matter who we are. Those who have lost it all have learned that better than most.
           

 


Linda Kelly serves on staff at the Loaves and Fishes ministry at Friendship Park.