Op-Ed submitted by Izabela Paraga
Homeless Food Runs were an experience that took me by surprise. In the summer before my junior year of college, I was a counselor for Light the World! Summer Institute, a program for high school students hosted here at Catholic University that focuses on the integration of faith in different disciplines. As a part of this program, we had one day focused on service, in which we led our groups of high schoolers into various locations around Washington, D.C. to deliver meals to our friends on the streets. In preparation for this, the week before the high school students arrived, all of the counselors were going to go to their sites as a trial run to get familiar with the locations they would be bringing their groups. One of the counselors gave us a reflection and some basic rules and things to expect before we headed out. She explained that the people we meet may be on the street for a variety of reasons and that there are many different faces of homelessness. This experience was not merely about us delivering food, but more importantly about encountering Christ in others. This would be a ministry of presence.
The food run that day caused a weight to be lifted from my shoulders. I remember calling my mom after, crying with the joy I felt from the beautiful encounters we had, and telling her what a relief it was to have real conversations and engage with the people we met on the streets. It had always felt like society had drilled into me to look away from the people I passed by and to avoid engaging with them. Intentionally offering food and conversation felt like a breath of fresh air and made me feel this basic connection with people, which felt so much more natural to me than the ignoring I subconsciously had been trained to do.
The experience excited me and struck me as an opportunity to engage with this population and I energetically brought my groups of high schoolers those weeks around D.C. and delivered food, sharing in the experience with them and the people we met. In the fall semester of my junior year, I continued going on food runs through the Sunday Homeless Food Runs, and loved being able to build community with my peers and the various people we met weekly. Now I am privileged to be one of the leaders of the Sunday Homeless Food Runs and get to engage more peers myself in this service.
Food runs have been a large part of my formation, because they have opened me up to this more natural way of engaging with the people I meet on the streets. I have better learned how to be at ease in new surroundings and how to better receive from and listen to others. I feel lucky to be able to meet new people on a weekly basis and to continue building relationships with the friends I have already made.
This service has taught me that, while tangible things are given out, the real gift we as students can both give the people we meet and receive ourselves is conversation. It is the human connections we make that can have the greatest impact, and coming to see my daily life as an opportunity to give of myself even just by my presence to others has been the greatest blessing.