Maddie took two minutes to catch her breath. She had been running left and right all day to lead her team. She provided every guest with a detailed program presenting the menu with two choices of soup, the speaker of the evening and the D.J. who would entertain the participants. She composed herself so as not to get caught up in the stress of pulling off the event. She had had some fears when the arrival of the big tent was delayed but eventually it was quickly raised and all was well again.
This was the first major event that the young woman led for the organization "Caravansary for the Needy", a community group that helps the homeless and finds housing for low-income families. She had worked hard to make everything perfect and she had to admit to herself she did pretty well. She was proud of what she had accomplished with the low budget allowed for the function.
Her sister Brooke had sent her the link of the job posting looking for an event planner. She also helped her tailor her resume and write a nice cover letter. Maddie had demonstrated her skills and experience by enumerating her accomplishments for the PTA at her children’s school and for the nursing home where her grandfather lived, for whom she had organized several events. The director of Caravansary for the Needy was thrilled to find such a qualified person despite the meager salary he was offering.
Tonight was her real test, the first big event she planned for the organization. Maddie assembled her team of volunteers, choosing people tolerant of different beliefs and values. She wanted reliable and trustworthy people. She made certain they had good teamwork skills and could adapt quickly to any situation.
She took to the streets and talked the community. The survey not only showed that homeless people frequent shelters and hot meal distribution centres, it also showed that poor people with housing use these same food services. This highlighted a form of poverty less visible in the public sphere, but nonetheless deep. With this data, she could correctly target whom to invite.
She had published, in the local newspaper, an invitation for homeless and citizens to fraternize. “For a rare occasion, on a weeknight, itinerants and the community can mingle at the event ‘A Soup for You”. A warm meeting which, we hope, will expose the extent of challenges on the issue of homelessness. Come join us on Thursday, October 14 from 4 p.m. to enjoy a hot soup. All this on the condition of starting a discussion with a neighbour.”
Posters bearing the same invitation were placed in grocery stores, in bus shelters, at the organization’s building reception and at the municipal library.
The concept was original yet simple. Maddie had planned a press conference, inviting politicians and business leaders to come and meet the beneficiaries of the services offered by Caravansary for the Needy. It irked her to see no candidates for the upcoming election or owners of surrounding businesses on the list of participants.
“Homeless people don’t bite, on the contrary, I find that they possess better morals than the normal citizen.” exclaimed the organizer to her boss. “These people, they’re lonely! Coming to day centres and enjoying a meal allows them to have conversations and create a network, you’ll know! “
“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir,” answered the director.
When she realized that despite her efforts the project wouldn’t have the desired result, that the leaders of the so-called evolved society didn’t seize the opportunity to understand and help the needy, Maddie decided to take matters into her own hands.
“We absolutely must create a rapprochement without violence and without judgment, they can no longer be ignored,” she had said, concluding her plea.
Coffee in hand, Maddie got up and walked around the park to make sure everything was going as planned. She smiled at the guests and was delighted to see some important people among the attendees. Through the festive and musical atmosphere of the event, the anguish, however, was palpable in several conversations.
“It’s a bit ironic that we all found ourselves in Clyde Park singing and dancing when the city chased the homeless out of the park two or three years ago, ” explains the head of the association, “Help for the homeless.” Several homeless people have since taken refuge in Wolf Square. And they still want to move them! "
A bulky handsome man, soup in hand, shows more optimism. He suggests trying to get the vote among the homeless.
“Politicians don’t talk about housing issues, but, if concerned people voted, change would come.”
Throughout the evening, participants were also treated to a special massage marquee. In line, Corey, who had been living on the streets since released from prison two years ago, took the bowl Brooke brought him.
“Enjoying the evening, mister,” she asked the man.
“The weather’s nice, the soup is good,” he said cheerfully, holding a young woman by the waist. “I’m good!”
At the far end of the park, near the public toilets, a woman in her sixties collapses silently. Meanwhile, two volunteers pick up the cardboard bowls littering the lawn. Between the park benches, three men are lying on the ground, at their length, for no apparent reason. In the middle of the park, people stood still in astonishment or fear, we don’t really know. In the massage tent, Brooke packs her essential oil bottles in a case. Corey, lying on a cot next to his wife’s, appears to be asleep.
A trio of volunteers quickly remove small yellow tablets from unused bowls to discard them later, elsewhere. In the distance, we hear sirens and see worried folks, who had earlier disdained the park invaded by homeless people, rush to the bodies collapsing one by one to the ground.
Satisfied with her job, Maddie calmly walks away, along with her sister and the five volunteers. Filled with tenderness for these unfortunate people, she told herself that this winter they will be neither hungry nor cold. Without violence or judgment, she ensured they were no longer ignored.