An “Intentional” Community

“Here, we created an intentional community,” says Mandy Cloninger, Executive Director of Trinity Cafe. In a two minute speech at their annual event Stick a Fork in Hunger, Mandy recounts their daily activities and with a grin, she reveals the secret “sauce” in Trinity’s mission. I have to admit, until that moment, I had only a cursory understanding of what I saw in the images posted by my dear friend Shannon, whose work it is to raise awareness and raise funds. It is certainly easy to understand that there are people who need to eat. Anyone can understand that, right? You’d think so.

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Stick a Fork in Hunger, Annual Charity Event

Note that THIS is where this piece changes tone, in case you miss it.

In my last ten years or so on social media, I have noticed a trend that infuriates me. Over and over I read that “they should do something about hunger,” “they should feed and shelter our homeless,” they, them, those people…ad nauseam. When I ask who “they” are, I get a lot of hemming and hawing about the government, the rich, “you know, people who have the money.”

“Really,” I ask. “Who are ‘the people who have the money?'”

***blink, blink***

I already know the answer, anyway. I’ve photographed enough charity events to know where the money comes from and exactly how hard it is for organizations like Trinity to have enough. If you dare to begin this conversation with me, you’d better have your facts straight, and you’d better have a good explanation as to why YOU don’t do anything yourself.

You know what you need to know about feeding the hungry? It is a community responsibility, and it always has been. That means YOU need to look after your neighbors, and not just the ones next door to you. Your neighbors include the small business owners who were devastated by the last recession, the single mom working hard at two jobs to raise three beautiful kids, children who’ve been orphaned and the elderly who cannot afford groceries and medications.

Be careful, as we discuss this topic, not to criticize the people who are actually doing the work you ascribe to they, them and those people. You see, I’ve seen the best. I’ve seen how Chef Benito and his staff focus on managing costs so that they can successfully serve as many as 500 nutritious meals a day, 365 days a year. I’ve seen Mandy and Shannon and their administrative volunteers tirelessly keep the public informed that their efforts are working. I’ve seen men and women whose lights were nearly extinguished by circumstance not only get a good meal, but then find a purpose in helping others.

Most importantly, I’ve seen dignity.

If you really want to do something about hunger, you first have to understand that hunger isn’t just about food. It is also the need for companionship, for kindness, for acceptance, but most of all, it is the need for dignity. THAT is the “secret sauce” at Trinity. Every day, three meals a day: over 500 of them, and every one served with kindness and respect. It is just as much about helping people heal as it is about filling their stomachs.

So, shut up and stop saying they need to fix hunger. They are trying. In the events I photographed this weekend, representatives from AT&T, GTE Financial, local law firms, physicians organizations, wine companies and more all gave personally and through their employers. Now, it’s your turn to roll up your sleeves or get out your checkbook and donateWE have to fix hunger in our community. WE need to stop talking about hunger as though it is not right on our collective doorstep.

By the way, an interesting thing will happen to you while you serve at Trinity, but I’ll let you figure that out for yourselves.

Don’t Call Me “Cougar!”

So, my sister, one of our closest friends and I decide to go out dancing in South Tampa. Yes, yes, I know, we elected to go dancing in the young, singles’ district. Yes, we walked into the trap willing and with full knowledge that the average age would be roughly 25.

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Peace on Earth

I am a recovering Catholic. I was raised on a steady diet of Hail Marys and Our Fathers, delivered with my little white Rosary, kneeling reverently in the ordered contemporary pews of our Villa Madonna chapel. To this day. I whisper a Hail Mary if an ambulance passes within earshot.

I say that I am recovering because my faith is a glimmer of what it once was as a child. Back then, I believed that through Christ all things were possible. But doubt settled in when I was moved from the loving hands of the Salesian nuns to the hell fire and brimstone of a local school with legalistic Baptist views. My parents were simply trying to blend a family and simplify things. Ohhhhh, the irony. As abstract thought and discernment took root in my pre-teen mind, the myopic fundamentalism preached in that school effectively destroyed my love for my Christianity. I have struggled ever since. I have a scientist’s reason. I understand the physical dynamics of the universe and from that I have come to a place that gives me some peace.

Despite all of that doubt, there is a single experience that returns me instantly to the time when I believed that the Christmas message touched everyone’s heart, regardless of the name of their faith. Standing in the middle of Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa during a midnight mass will bring even the most heart-hardened, staunchly doubting mind to the brink of believing. It is then, while wrenching every note of O Holy Night from my throat, that I get a glimmer of what it feels like to be united by one ideal.

Last year, for the first time, I heard Casting Crown’s live performance of “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Such a beautiful message on a day when the whole world looks to the sky for a Christmas miracle. It is based on a poem written by Longfellow after his son was severely wounded in the Civil War. Longfellow was adamantly against the war and was deeply saddened that his son insisted on enlisting. At that time, Christmas wasn’t yet a national holiday, but as he listened to the churches ring their bells loud and clear, he penned these beautiful words.

Even if you have no religion, peace is in you. It’s in every one of us. Maybe if we just sing it out, the whole world, including those who’ve lost sight of it, will find their way. So, on this Christmas Eve, I wish each and every one of you peace. Take a moment and pay it forward. With one voice, one harmony, we can reach every corner of our world with this simple message.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

And the bells are ringing
(Peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing
(Peace on earth)

In my heart I hear them
(Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, goodwill to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

But the bells are ringing
(Peace on earth)
Like a choir singing
(Peace on earth)

Does anybody hear them?
(Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, goodwill to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to men

Then ringing singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men

And the bells, they’re ringing
(Peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing
(Peace on earth)

And with our hearts we’ll hear them
(Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, goodwill to men

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing?
(Peace on earth)
The life the angels singing
(Peace on earth)

Open up your heart and hear them
(Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, goodwill to men

Peace on earth, peace on earth
Peace on earth, goodwill to men


View live performance here:

Writer(s): Brady ThorntonEllis Jr, Johnny R. Cash, Bernie Herms, Bill Wolaver, Carol Tornquist
Copyright: Chappell & Co. Inc., Non-stop Outrageous Publishing LLC, Word Music LLC, Banahama Tunes, Vivian Distin, John Carter Cash Music Inc.