Hansen Wendlandt, Pastor, NCPC. It all started with the idea that some children and teens might be able to use extra food. Kids who receive free or reduced lunch at school won’t get that in the summertime, so let’s offer them some lunch. That simple.
Except, we should make it fun, with a playground and volunteers who feel comfortable talking to young people. Maybe have Frisbee, and a guitar would be nice. I mean, we’re not bringing Justin Bieber, but lunch should be inviting.
But—here is where things got complicated—what about “those” people? Do we make this a locals-only event, and somehow keep away the campers? Some people would certainly appreciate that. Or, do we not make a big deal if a few campers come, as long as they behave?
Or—and here is where things got really complicated—maybe some of them could use a sandwich too. And if we make it clear that they are welcome, maybe even invite them, perhaps we could offer some socks. In fact, this would be a perfect opportunity to pass out trash bags, so that we can help people clean up their own campsites. And, wow, what if we met “these” folks with dignity and listened to their stories, almost like we were neighbors, not enemies?
At least, that was how a good idea evolved into crazy talk.
Last summer on occasional Thursdays you could find a group at Chipeta Park sharing sandwiches, handing out socks and other supplies, and trying to create peaceful community. The volunteers came from all over Nederland—the churches, Club Ned, Teens, Inc., the schools, Peak to Peak Counseling. We received donations from the Food Pantry, Boulder Shelter, B&F, Eldora gardens. Kids laughed on the playground. And we met about a hundred campers.
Sure, sure, I’m on Nedheads too. We all knew what to expect. Drugs and trash, right? Thievery and rude smells at every turn. I heard that one of them stole the moon, and, it’s just a rumor, but another one has a pet dragon that burned down part of Ward, and, and, and….We need to arrest some and shoot at others, and stop giving them handouts and close down the campsites, and vaccinate ourselves against homelessness, and, and, and….
And we met about a hundred campers at Summer Socks and Sandwiches. The vast majority were polite, engaging, probably not as socially acculturated as your average Nederlander, who prides herself on rising above social acculturation; but the vast majority of people who came to get help in a peaceful, community environment, it turns out, needed help, tried to live peacefully, and appreciated community.
Sure, sure, two guys definitely should have been in a psych ward, and maybe the rowdies were smart enough not to show up, and maybe everyone who did show up was on their best behavior to trick all these naïve helpers, and, and, and… .Frankly, you can build up all the reasons you want for why “those” people are scum, and you probably can find some data to support that, and you would be absolutely naïve to think that a few sandwiches are going to fix their personal problems or our town’s systemic problems.
Or, you can meet “these” people with a dose of inclusivity and openness, encourage good relations with respect and kindness, and learn something about the underbelly of the American socio-economic system. We should all be proud at how many Ned residents came to do just that, and impressed with what a great job they did being neighbors.
So, we’re going to give out socks and sandwiches and dignity again this summer. It will be noon on every Thursday that school is not in session, June 4 through August 13. Instead of Chipeta, we’re going to hold these lunches at the Community Church, just west of the mining museum. We have a playground there for the kiddos, and we’ll still be welcoming the strangers in our strange land. We’ll still pass out trash bags, and collect trash on Saturdays at the main camp areas. Also, we plan to put more emphasis on communicating things like fire safety, how to respect the forest and private property, and where to get help in Boulder.
The goal is to serve the community as much as we serve people, whether they be young and hungry or adults in need. And, if, along the way, we break down a few boundaries and help ease some cynicism, all the better.
Anyone is welcome to share lunch, and if you or your organization wants to help out, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 303-258-3579.