serving Towson, Morgan State and UMBC


Day 3: Community and hope in shredded paper and turnips

Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on March 20, 2018 at 12:05 AM

We spent the day at Cass Community Social Services" target="_blank">, a program originally founded out of a Methodist church that was determined to commit themselves to caring for the people of their neighborhood. It began with bread lines during the Great Depression and has now become an organization which houses over 300 people and serves over a million meals a year. And they are located in a neighborhood where vacant buildings are on nearly every block, where hope seems like it may be hard to come by.

We spent the morning in the kitchen, making use of whatever was donated, as well as supplemental food purchased with proceeds from their catering business. We peeled potatoes, made salad, prepared chicken and made the biggest vat of mac and cheese I had ever seen.

But even better than the opportunity to help feed people who need it, we got to meet regular volunteers who welcomed us into their family for a few hours. There was Bob, who is on the board, who volunteers every week. There was Mr. Bobby who had been helping for 11 years, who told us how to do everything in the kitchen. There was CriCri, who told us she was addicted to crack for 20 years after she turned to it after a broken heart, but was clean now and couldn’t wait to tell us about her love of Jesus and how he had rescued her as we cut turnips together.

Some of our group helped serve lunch- where women and children always eat first. It was a struggle for our students to have to deny people seconds until after everyone had eaten and some just couldn’t do it. It never seems right to have to say that people can’t have food when they ask, but these are rules that care for the ones who get there late and rules to protect the shy and the quiet from the louder and more assertive voices getting too much. It’s a rule that makes the most sense when you are in the back of the line. And perhaps we need to make more of our rules based on what is best for those in the back.

After lunch, we headed to help Cass Green Industries, started in 2007 to provide economic opportunities for neighbors. They make doormats out of abandoned tires, coasters out of recycled glass and shred and recycle paper. Over 70 folks are employed through these industries, including adults with developmental disabilities who earn minimum wage sorting the paper for 2 hours a day in the warmer weather (it’s in a cold warehouse.) Mark, who runs the warehouse, was on his first day back after surgery and let us play in the shredded documents. Ok, he didn’t, but we played anyway, while actually working really hard to undo a misshapen bale and fill 75 bags of shredded paper for a church that wanted them (for what I have no idea!)

Cass makes about $3,000 on each 30 bales of white paper (each about a half ton) and less money on bales of colored paper and cardboard. I started doing the math and it doesn’t seem that they make much money after all the people they need to pay to pick up the documents for shredding and all the people to sort paper and work the balers, but the paper business was created to give people meaningful jobs in a neighborhood where there aren’t enough. So, at the end of the day, people are employed, documents are shredded, paper is recycled and everyone wins. What would our country and our neighborhoods be like if, instead of shareholder profits, we were motivated by what provides meaningful work and a living wage to our neighbors?

Mark, our leader, told us that the neighborhood folks respect Cass because many of them eat there on a regular basis. So as Cass has continued to buy more property in the area and take pride in the area, Mark said he’s seen people out picking up trash and caring for the area better. Hope begets hope. Hope ripples out. Hope is contagious.

Echoes of Pastor Anderson’s sermon keep ringing in my ears: those who reject the life of the world will find life in following after Jesus and his cross. Cass knows that the system is broken. There wouldn’t be so many people to feed and house if things worked how Jesus hopes. But they refuse to let that be the end of the story. They keep finding ways to steal hope back from despair and to create life from death (like all recycling.)

After a day made sweet by hard work that matters, by people who welcomed us like family, and so much laughter, we made a trip to Saunders candy store- a Detroit tradition- for ice cream and candy before dinner tonight.

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