A year at the Sunday Friendship Breakfast

Dear Kathy, As I think back over our work at the Sunday Friendship Breakfast, I cannot think of a more rewarding year in my life, working with the homeless and needy. Sometimes it feels like we are just sticking our fingers in the dike, you and I, holding back the flood of needy folks out there. Other times, no.most times I come home thinking, “There go I but for the grace of God.” So many people so alone and so out of luck. But I believe that our time spent volunteering in Providence has helped in some small way. I think we’ve made a difference. And I cannot help but wonder why, in our society, do we (still) have so many people just barely get by. The first day I walked into the Breakfast I expected to find “ a few” homeless people there, maybe 50 or 60… not 300. I am saddened by the mental illness and substance abuse, discouraged by the lack of opportunity, and exasperated by the politics of poverty that we find. All that said, I have hope, and I am so glad we did it. When you asked me, after the first Sunday, “Are you going back?” and I answered “Yes.” I had no idea that this year would be like no other in my life, and how fulfilling 2015 has been with you at the Sunday Friendship Breakfast.
I love you. Happy New Year. Jan

Angels on the streets of South Providence

Believe in angels. They still exist. Take Ralph Davis and Rose Preston for example. I rode around the streets of South Providence with them and recorded their many good deeds. Every Saturday morning and every Wednesday evening in summer or winter, in rain or snow or 100 degrees, they are out there looking for folks in need. They offer a sandwich, or a pastry, a hot chocolate, or maybe a pair of fresh socks or warm gloves, even a little hope and human kindness. They have been on the streets for many years, helping the homeless without judgment or discrimination, just trying to do some good. So believe in angels. Here are two, right under our noses.

Share The Warm, an appeal for a photograph to help feed the homeless

A Sunday Friendship Breakfast.

November 25, 2015  It is early morning as I write this, the day before Thanksgiving, 2015. There is a double moon setting over our lake, one in the sky and another twinkling in the water. It’s crystal clear, with the temperature at 27 outside our nice warm cabin. The day holds promise for Kathy and me. We’re doing double birthday portraits of our grandsons, Zak and Matt. It’s become an annual thing andthey, of course, are amazing grandchildren.

But at the same time, as I look out on this perfect landscape photograph, I can’t help but think what the day holds for some homeless people I know who don’t have it as good as we do. I wonder if Debbie can see the moon as she wakes under the warm exhaust fan at Tommy’s Diner. Or Courtney, another homeless woman I’ve met recently, who sleeps on the steps of the Cathedral in Providence. I try to imagine what she sees when she peeks out from under her pile of blankets. Or my buddyVernon, a resident at Crossroads, who has started a business called “Humble Beginnings.”. What does he see out his window?

One thing I do know about them is that they are hungry, as are thousands of other homeless and sheltered men and women who are waking up today. They want something to eat. Easy for Kathy and I here on our golden pond, but not so easy for all of the Vernons and Debbies out there.

We volunteer at a soup kitchen in Providence called The Sunday Friendship Breakfast, run out of the Mathewson United Methodist Church. It is just over a year ago that we have been going and it has been an epiphany for me. Although I thought I knew about homelessness, I really didn’t “know” it until we started helping out there. Like so many things inlife, until you experience something up close, you really don’t understand. And even now, luckily, talking with these men and women, I still don’t really know how difficult it must be for them. I’ve never slept under an exhaust fan, or in a shelter.  But I’ve seen the overpasses where they sleep and walked the sidewalks where they walk. And I’ve heard their stories. 

Exhaust fan at Tommy's Diner

Exhaust fan at Tommy's Diner

I have begun making portraits of these mostly invisible people who come to the soup kitchen. I give them 4 x 6 prints, which they really appreciate. You can see some of these pictures on my website if you care to look, part of what now has become my way to raise awareness of homelessness with my photographs.  And I’m writing to ask you share your photographic talents to help feed the homeless at The Sunday Friendship Breakfast.

Background: The Sunday Friendship Breakfast feeds somewhere between 250 - 300 hungry men and women and some families every Sunday morning (plus on special days like Thanksgiving and Christmas). They provide a nourishing meal of oatmeal, eggs, sausage, home fries, pancakes, fruit and coffee. Doing the math that is 52 weeks x 275, or 14,300 meals per year. Some of the money to buy the food and supplies comes from grants made by suburban churches and others. But of course it’s never enough. And the people, the new faces, the men, women and children, they just keep coming and they are hungry.

I am writing to my photography friends at the Newport Photographers' Guild to ask you for a picture for an exhibit Kathy Caswell and I are putting together called “Share The Warmth” to be held on Sunday afternoon, January 7th, from 1 to 4 PM at the Newport Yacht Club. We will offer your picture for sale at a silent auction, all proceeds to purchase food for the soup kitchen.

Details: Donate a matted and framed photograph about 11 x14 to 16 x 20 inches finished size. The subject of your image can really be anything but the theme is “Scapes”, that is, landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, etc. because we think these might have the most sales appeal for an exhibit like this one. We will begin the bid at $65 - $85 depending on size but hope at silent auction your picture will go for more.

I am asking for a picture from you. Will you donate one of your favorite images to help feed those far less fortunate than you and I?  If so, please send me an email with the subject line “Share The Warmth”.  Say "yes" and include your contact information. I will put you on my list and more details will follow both through the Newport Photographers’ Guild, email and on this website. And please respond soon!

janthephotoman@gmail.com

Ralph and Rose' Way -- Midnight Moment Outreach

Ralph Davis and Rose Preston are the real deal. They are making a difference, helping people they find wandering the streets of South Providence. They look in abandoned buildings, and beneath the overpasses of the city. They look for people who are hungry and cold in  empty parking lots, even behind dumpsters. I went out with them one Saturday and recorded their morning routine, one they have continued to do for years, rain or shine, two days a week. When they see a lonely man with a backpack or a tired woman carrying a garbage bag, they pull their Subaru up to the curb and Rose  asks gently, "Hi there, are you hungry?" And so goes another "Midnight Moment", helping folks that could use a little help, making contact with people who are pretty invisible to most of us. They hand out meatball sandwiches and hope. Or soup and conversation, maybe an encouraging word or two. All on their own dime. Theirs is a truly inspirational commitment.

Below, you can watch a short video that begins with pictures of Ralph and Rose in action along with an informational skit on what it is like to be homeless. Ralph should know, he's been there. 

https://youtu.be/2lD60_HgIfg

 

The way it is for the disabled.

Most folks don’t even think about stairs… until they can’t get around. We only have a few stairs in our house but they became a major obstacle when Kathy had foot surgery. I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be if one is disabled and homeless. Pictured here are a few of the many reasons why Mathewson Street United Methodist Church is having a fund raiser(links below) so they can make the Sunday Friendship Breakfast (and the many other services) accessible to the disabled in downtown Providence.

Links to a ”Wine & Waterfire”, a major fund raiser to make Mathewson Street United Methodist Church handicapped accessible:

http://thomasreedjones.blogspot.com/2015/09/wine-and-waterfire-october-3rd.html

The entertainment for the evening\: http://pipesonthemic.com

October 3rd, 5 to 7 PM at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, Rhode island. Tickets here: http://www.headsupri.org

Buy some even if you cannot make it! Thanks. Jan Armor

An act of kindness, the way it was.

I see it all of the time at the Sunday Friendship Breakfast; large and small acts of kindness that often go unnoticed. Here Leo offers a breakfast to a disabled woman who is unable come inside* for a meal. She may have gone hungry had not this man taken the time and made the effort. Recording this little moment underscores in my heart that helping others less fortunate than ourselves is what this is all about at the Breakfast? We can all make a difference.

*Note - Unfortunately “coming inside” isn’t always an option for disabled people at the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church. There is no handicapped access.. yet. Plans are under way to change this. A capital campaign is in the works to raise the many thousands of dollars needed so anyone who wants a breakfast can have one. Click to enlarge.

The Way It Is In Rhode Island

We drive off every Sunday to our home in Wakefield. It is less than 30 miles from the Sunday Friendship Breakfast in Providence but a million miles away in possibilities. The folks pictured here live on the streets and in the shelters of the city, surviving day by day, meal to meal, hoping for something better.  Possibly they will find housing. Maybe they will get well and get clean. Perhaps they will make a better life for themselves. Maybe...

Pictures here are Wilhelmina, Robert, DayDay in mask, Brian with cigarette, Zulu in uniform, Tom with tattoos, Paula with cane and Charles with his meal. The lady in the second picture pouring sugar and the mother and father with their baby are not identified. Click to enlarge.

Alone on the street, just the way it is for many folks.

July 21, 2015

She came to the Breakfast late, all alone, and spoke to hardly any one. She seemed preoccupied in thoughts, maybe of better times long long ago. To me she seemed to have given up, resigned to a life without laughter or promise. When I asked her name she just waved me away. It was very sad.

Some things never change, it's just the way it is...

Back from a trip to Portland, OR, it's just as I expected. The almost invisible faces of those who have been left behind are still here. There is an unease in me: things just never change. Homelessness here, or in Portland, Oregon, or Miami, Florida, will not go away, at least not any time soon.


The way it is for homeless women.

In Rhode Island, the number of individual homeless women has grown by 65% since 1998. The number of single women – among society’s most vulnerable population – has spiked in recent years. Many nights pass without enough shelter beds to go around for these women.

The way it is when you are homeless.

It s always packed at the end of the month. The money is mostly gone and folks are hungry. I've noticed many of the regulars have begun to trust me, often ask me to take another photo so they can give it to a friend or relative. I did one yesterday for Servio on his bike. He is going to give it to his grandson. Many of my subjects are not just faces. I know many names now, and some fragments of the stories that go with the faces. 

Andy approached me in the hall. His pants were falling down. He asked me for scissors so he could make another button hole in his waist band. I did not have any but told him I would put out a request for 32 waist Bermuda shorts. It's sad, simple things like scissors, or shorts that fit, and/or a thousand other little things are not easy when you live in a shelter. This is the way it is.

Servio is sending this one to this granddson.

Andy needs size 32 waist shirts.

Midnight Moments, the way it was on Saturday morning...

You could say Ralph and Rose are married, but not to each other. Instead, they are married to the idea that it is worth it to help those who have been left behind.

They cruise the grittier streets of Providence every Wednesday evening and every Saturday morning with a station wagon crammed with food and white socks. A sign on the side of the car says, “Prayer and more.” More for sure. I think Ralph said. they have been doing this for many years now. They look for people who are alone, who are wandering the streets. The look in abandoned houses, or under overpasses, or behind dumpsters. They seek out the people who are pretty invisible to most of us. 

They call themselves “Midnight Moments”. (His email is mmouthreach@yahoo.com).They make roast beef, meatball and P & J sandwiches in they own kitchens. They cook up a hearty beef stew when it is cold. They buy socks and bananas with their own money. They sometimes get donations from supermarkets and bakeries. They stop whenever they see someone that looks like they are in need, and they ask, “Are you hungry?” or “Would you like a sandwich? or “Do you need a pair of socks?” This is how Ralph and Rose make a difference. They reach out.

For me, going out with Ralph and Rose  was, you could say, and “eye-opening experience”. Riding with these two gentle souls was really much than that. The couple of hours I spent with them were truly amazing. They are an inspiration. No one asked them to do this. They just saw the need and did it. They have been helping the homeless in their spare time, mostly with their own money for years.

Ralph told me what he is really hoping for is “duplication”, meaning, he hopes others might duplicate what they are doing.  Writing a check once in a while is fine but what he hopes is  that you might keep food or socks or blankets in your car and when you see a homeless person you pull over a pull over and ask, “Hey, do you need a blanket, or maybe a pair of socks?” He is hoping you will reach out. Not just once, but whenever you see someone in need. He hopes lots of folks duplicate what he and Rose are doing.

I recorded in pictures a tiny bit of Midnight Moments.I was quite moved.

Take a look here:  Maybe you can buy some white socks for someone who could really use them...

Ralph Davis and Rose Preston of Midnight Moments.

Ralph Davis and Rose Preston of Midnight Moments.


The Wa It Was On The High Line

Kathy and I took a walk on the High Line and Times Square in preparation for the High Line NYC Photo Safari coming up soon. Visual overload in the Big Apple! Absolutely superb venue. Here are some shots along the way, presented as a slide show. Put on your walking shoes and get a good night's sleep the night before.

The way they were at the Sunday Friendship Breakfast

Last Sunday morning was a beautiful day in Providence. We distibuted more toiletry kits, about sixty of them, thanks to Andrea Smith and John Eastman and other good folks who donated the items. As I have mentioned before, recipients are always eager to get these little bags of personal grooming products, and very appreciative. Below is a little slide show of portraits of mens and women who received your gifts last week:

 

Forty happy people, the way it was yesterday morning

Melvin and Christina are happy because they each are holding a toiletry kit with tooth brush, tooth paste, a razor, shave cream, shampoo, and bar of soap. Happy, too, were about 40 other folks who received these kits. However, there were about 100 other people who did not get a kit because that's all we had. 

If you have any toiletries in travel sizes, please drop them off at Bagelz in Wakefield in the big black box by the door. Kathy and I thank you, and so do the folks who will receive your donation next Sunday morning at the Mathewson Street Friendship Breakfast.

Louis speaks for the homeless, the way it is.

Take nine minutes out of your busy day to hear Luis’ story, then share it so others might better appreciate that homelessness can happen to anyone. Working as a chef for many years, Luis suddenly found he could not continue cooking because of a  physical disability. He now is a member of the RI Coalition For The Homeless Speakers Bureau, a group of men and women who share their stories, hoping to raise awareness and make things better in our community. 

Here’s the link: