By: Beverly Graham
Overlake school, a private school in Bellevue, was the first school to volunteer with me in 1991. 12 students arrived to help hand out lunches…These were students from a very privileged school and I really did not know what to expect from them but they were amazing. We started handing out food and the police showed up. There was a youngish officer that was very full of himself. He dogged my heals, yelled at me, and was very rude. I tried to ignore him and not engage with him. The students were thrilled. The officer told me I had to stop, yelled at me to give him my identification, and told me that what I was doing was not legal. I was not a respecter of persons back then, nor did I care too much about respectful engagement. I might have told him to kiss my ass…He detained me for an hour until the sergeant on duty came down to Occidental.
The sergeant was a big man; ex marine. I thought I was going to be arrested and was a bit nervous. I looked up and up at him and told him that I was NOT handing out food in the park. He looked baffled for a moment and asked me what I meant. I told him that I was on the sidewalk outside of the park but that I had not gone into the park. It became apparent that he had no idea why he had been called down to the street. The sergeant looked at the young cop and asked him what “the hell” he thought he was doing. The young officer replied that he was detaining me because I was encouraging people to loiter and that I didn’t give them a place to wash their hands before I gave them a lunch. The sergeant looked at the young cop as if he was going to throttle him…He left in disgust throwing a look over his shoulder that said ” wait till you get back to the station”…
The young cop just could not give it up though. He didn’t like me…I may have been a bit flippant to him… He told me I was a bad role model for young people; encouraging civil disobedience… And he wasn’t fond of the population that was being served… He found out who I was, where I was from, and found out that I did music for the archdiocese of Seattle. He took a trip to the church in Bothell where I provided music and had a meeting with the priest. The priest was Armondo Guzman. He told Armondo that I was a public nuisance and a menace. He told Armondo that he should tell me to stop doing what I was doing. Armondo asked him what I was doing that was so disturbing. He told Armodo that I was feeding people and bringing them necessities. Armondo asked in disbelief, “you want me to tell her to stop feeding the hungry?”
I started putting anti bacterial hand wipes in the lunch sacks. Whenever I saw the young officer I smiled and waved at him and asked him if he wanted a lunch…
One Sunday I was handing out bags and it was getting dark and it was very cold. There were no more names on my list so I started taking names for the next week. I still had eight sleeping bags in my van. After I took the first name and ID I decided that it was too cold to not give those last eight bags out just because my list was done. So I called the name I had just written down. His name was Ramon Pantherbones. He was half way across the plaza and he ran back to me when I hollered out his name. I did not look up but reached into the van, handed him a bag, and crossed his name off the list. Ramon was wearing snakeskin cowboy boots and I could see that he wasn’t moving because I could still see his boots, so I glanced up. Ramon was around 50 ish, Native American – Hispanic, very handsome. Black hair with grey at the temples, pulled back into a queue at the neck. He had warm black eyes that crinkled and a lovely smile. Ramon tucked the sleeping bag under one arm and reached down and took my hands into his. He looked deep into my eyes.
It was much like a Walt Disney movie. All the noise of the city; the sirens, the cars, the shouting, all of it just disappeared, and there was only me and Ramon looking into each other’s eyes… Ramon nodded at me…I nodded at Ramon. When I looked up into Ramon’s face, God looked back at me from his eyes. I knew in that moment that I had just handed Jesus, the Christ, a sleeping bag…Ramon turned and walked away. I had never seen him before…I never saw him again… My life was irrevocably altered.
During the winter there are many casualties of weather…usually elder adults. A simple thing like a sleeping bag that is good down to 15 degrees can save a life. New warm white socks can prevent immersion foot; a terrible disorder that affects feet that can never get dry and clumps of flesh peel off and bleed. I made the decision that along with food I would had out new sleeping bags and new socks. They had to be new…Many times with the best of intentions we hand off our ‘throw a-ways”… For people who live on the fringe this message is detrimental as it implies unworthiness. Just like clothes that are handed down to the next child in line who is never allowed to feel the specialness of having something new, so it is when old and used things are passed out to those who are un-housed; no matter how they got there. I have discovered that when the feeling of unworthiness sets in it takes more than a place to live to make someone not “homeless” in the mind.
The first couple of time I handed out bags there were near riots of people desperate to get a bag, but I soon developed a system. I had to be shown a piece of identification that had their name on it. I wrote then name on a list and the next week I had to be shown the same piece of ID and they would receive a bag. I bought 150 bags a week to hand out. The ID could be a library card, green card, bus pass, or a license, anything that had a name on it. I handed out bags each Sunday. I stood on the sideboard of my van and started calling the names on the list. There were two lines. One that was already on the list, and one that was waiting to be put on the sleeping bag list. As the called their names I would check ID’s, hand the bag off, and cross their name off the list.
One time I was handing out bags and people were pushing and hollering. I got a little scared so I climbed up and stood on the Memorial Wall at the plaza and I tried to yell over them. There were some very angry guys who had gotten bags the week before but they wanted another one and thought they could bully me into giving them over. I told them they could not have another bag because there were so many people in line that had never received a bag. They screamed in my face. They were yelling at me and everyone else was yelling at them. I held up my arms and in an effort to be heard over them asked for silence. All of a sudden it was silent…Very silent… I thought they were finally quieting down for me and I was full of myself…
From the corner of my eye I caught a movement a bit to the side and behind me and so I slowly turned around. There I discovered the reason for the sudden silence. Two giant 7 foot Samoans had climbed up on the wall and were standing behind me pointing at the miscreant men that had caused such mayhem… The two men quietly walked away. Everyone else in line was sniggering… Guardian Angels come in all sizes.