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.

The Art of Scrubbing

Bear with me while I make a short point about the status of the American (and possibly global) mindset at the moment.

I started writing databases back in 1984. I have written many, from the complexity of a predictive foreclosure manager to the simplicity of a phone list. The first thing one does when writing a database is “scrub” the data. “Scrubbing” is a technique we use to make the data consistent so that it is (a) easily searchable and (b) easier to generalize data in reports. The criticality of this step increases commensurate with the size of the database.

As populations increase (any population, even within the confines of a business entity), the need to manage that data forces the dehumanization of the individuals in that population. We transform from a person, known by our uniqueness, to a line item, identified only by the commonality we share with other members of that population. It’s bad enough when it is a global company, especially if that company has become a large entity over time, absorbing smaller companies (as many of my recent clients have been). When it is a country, with vastly different populations, and localized idiosyncrasies, it becomes a nightmare.

Humans feel less and less hopeful, and therefore more and more depressed, as we get lost in the “scrubbing.” It is demoralizing to call, for example, an insurance company, and KNOW that nothing you say will be addressed because your line of data has no power. YOUR personhood doesn’t meet the critical ranking level that other stakeholders do. This is where we are as a country. We’ve become so hopeless, so demoralized, that like a weakened virus, we are turning on each other, using each other as fodder for our rage. Is this really who we want to be?

True globalization (which has been tried numerous times throughout history) will not succeed because as the data becomes more and more sterile, and humans begin to grab what is theirs and escape the onslaught of so severe a change, the individual countries will unravel but the cultures will continue to fight for relevance. Change is the great nemesis.

WE individuals are not losing our humanity. We are losing our hope that our lives matter in the face of immense external pressure. We are witnessing dangerous groups (such as DAESH and MS13) emerge that give hopeless individuals a localized sense of belonging. Groupthink roots deeply under those circumstances. I am a strong proponent of communities for this very reason.

Stay connected to your community, whatever it may be. Know your neighbors. Volunteer your time. Be part of a solution instead of spewing rage at a force under which individuals are powerless. It is the only antidote for scrubbing.

And before anyone starts the “but…but…isolating groups…blah blah blah” rhetoric, think long and hard about how “communities” reach out and welcome people whose lives have brought them to those places. Communities are first and foremost, welcoming. If your mind immediately goes to isolationist groups, then you are part of the problem.