Today was without a doubt the most difficult part of this challenge so far.
Jason, Isaiah and I went to a meal-drop in as a family. I selected it because it was in an area of town where I thought the guests would not necessarily be homeless, but simply needing food to get them through the week. If it was just Jason and I going to eat I wouldn’t have done this. But babies are sensitive creatures, and I didn’t want to expose Isaiah to the negative energy that often accompanies those who are experiencing such profound suffering. I became affected by it last year while coordinating a meal programme and would often come home teary and worn and drained. Yes, I’m predisposed to crying at the best of times (Jason calls me a delicate flower). This week has only augmented that trait.
I was wrong about the location though. Very wrong.
We took the bus as a family. It was difficult to find the correct entrance to the building. The security guard was a little annoyed with us. We tried three different doors before we found the correct entrance to the dinner. As soon as we walked in, the volunteer greeter looked at us and looked at Isaiah and said, “We don’t take babies here. We can’t accommodate a baby.” We simply said ok and were ready to leave but she said, “Let me see what I can do.”
Another volunteer eventually came over and told us that they don’t normally allow babies, but they just couldn’t let us leave without eating – it was far too cold (it was one the coldest nights of the year in Toronto). He was going to try and find us a corner to sit alone. We tried to say it was okay, but they insisted.
I honestly didn’t know what to do. Our intention was not to cause extra work. It wasn’t to cause a fuss. Guests who were eating nearby started yelling, “LET ‘EM EAT!”.
The social worker came over and asked to speak with Jason alone. The volunteer came back and asked if we had a home to go to. They couldn’t find a place for us to sit, but they would make a take out package for us. I became more and more ashamed and more and more embarrassed. I could feel the volunteers staring at us and was sure they were thinking, “Why on earth would you have a baby if you’re not able to feed him?” I’ve heard volunteers say these things before. I have no idea if that’s really what the volunteers last night were really thinking. Imagining was enough. I felt very judged.
But on the other hand there were volunteers who were trying to do everything they could to help us. Their caring was astounding. The social worker asked Jason if we had a home (I suspect CAS would have been called immediately if they suspected we were without housing) and Jason assured him we did. The social worker then asked Jason if he had lost his job.
We decided that if were were asked about why we were eating at a drop-in we wouldn’t lie. But we also didn’t want to say, “We’re here because we’re completing The Stop’s Do the Math programme to create awareness for the need to add additional funds to social assistance payments so people can afford to eat properly.”
Jason’s response to the social worker regarding whether he lost his job was “It’s personal.”
The social worker handed Jason his card and told him to call.
The volunteers came back with a box of food for us. We thanked them and took it home. It had four clementines, meatloaf, vegetables and roasted potatoes, soup and rye bread. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t even hungry anymore. I went and got Isaiah’s bath ready while he and Jason ate.
After Isaiah and I went to bed, Jason and I debriefed about the experience. “What if we really had to do that?” I said.
I felt shame enough doing this for the week voluntarily. I couldn’t imagine the shame I’d be feeling if I didn’t have the resources to adequately feed and take care of my child.
Jason assured me that the only people who were possibly harmed tonight were me and him. As I mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be making donations to cover our food coats. Isaiah was fine, the guests were fine, and we know from our own experiences that people like to help others. It feels good.
I’m still not convinced what I did was okay tonight. It’s going to take more than a little while to process this experience.
One thing is for sure though – Jason and I don’t ever want to do this again. For real, or “pretend”.