Have you ever wondered where your next meal will come from? Or where you’ll sleep that night? Or where you’ll keep the things you need to survive? What if you had these same worries every single day? Some of you have asked yourself one or more of these questions. Some of you haven’t. Others have combatted hunger and homelessness in other ways, either through volunteering with various organizations or working for organizations that aim to help. Some of you have focused on other causes entirely, which is fantastic.
Homelessness is a continuing conversation in Seattle with no perfect solution in sight. It is difficult, to say the least, to think about individuals who don’t have a place to stay at night, don’t know where their next meal will come from, don’t know what will happen the next day, or the day after that. The stakes are even higher when you realize that it isn’t just adults that experience homelessness. Indeed, there are hundreds, even thousands, of homeless teenagers in Seattle who need help finding warm meals, conversations, and beds.
This is where we pick up the story of our Quarter 1 Community Commitment Award recipient, Angela Lowe. For the past two years, Angela has been involved in an organization called Teen Feed, a local non-profit started in 1987 that works to connect with over 900 individual youth each year, supporting them with “warm meals, basic needs items, and supportive connections in the University District, and Auburn.” If we are in the business of creating cooperative communities who dream boldly, this is one aspect of our communities that requires direct attention, and luckily for us, we have Angela to help guide our way. Thus far, we have volunteered with Teen Feed five times, with another five slated for this year, the next swiftly approaching in early June.
Angela uncovered Teen Feed through her husband’s company, which volunteers at Teen Feed once a month. Angela and Chris participated a number of times, finding the experience to be difficult but incredibly rewarding. In March of 2016, Angela introduced Teen Feed to Verity, building one of the more intense and humbling quarterly volunteer experiences we have. For those of you unfamiliar with the Teen Feed experience, once a volunteer date is selected, Angela works to compile a team of 6 – 10 individuals who then plan, purchase, and, on the day of the event, prepare, serve, and clean up dinner for upwards of 50 teenagers. On the night, volunteers are prepping food, staffing a food line, bussing dishes, washing dishes, cleaning counters and floors, running beverages, accommodating special requests, talking with the guests, and generally helping to provide a positive, safe environment for every visitor that steps through the doors. By providing fajitas, taco salad, stir-fry, and chili, Angela leads us on a mission to feed a group of individuals who need it desperately.
This is a difficult, often heart-wrenching experience. To see teenagers who perhaps carry everything they have with them, who confront the prospect of finding a place to sleep on a sidewalk or in a doorway a nightly experience, it can be quite affecting. Add to that those teenagers who come to Teen Feed with children of their own, along with the realization that those tiny humans are also homeless, might also have to spend the night outside, beginning life in an inconceivable way, the entire evening is a struggle of emotions.
It is hard for Angela not to compare her own teenage years with the experiences of the teenagers in front of her, realizing that despite all of the challenges she herself had, she still had a family and support network deeply entrenched around her, she never experienced anything close to what these individuals experience. What are their stories? How did they get here? It is difficult to ignore these questions, though they have no good answers. Reflecting on these questions and their numerous, often crushingly sad answers sends ripples through her life, forcing a perspective change that ultimately makes her a better, more well-rounded human.
Despite the heaviness of the event, there are moments of lightness that break through, allowing Angela to share her passion for cooking, to show that food is indeed created with love. Confronted with this intensity, sometimes all she can do is provide a smile, a warm greeting, and a plate of food that is made from love and compassion. In this small way, the sadness of the event can be framed in a way that provides hope. Hope that somehow, some way, these kids can find their own ways through the world. Hope that we as a community can come together and help groups of humans who are less fortunate than ourselves.
This can be difficult, and Angela continually focuses and reflects on how lucky she is to be in the position to give back in this way. It also helps to know it isn’t just her. Various organizations do this same thing every night, ensuring these teenagers have warm meals and a place to congregate. Without this, and the support and love of the rest of the meal team, Angela would fall apart, stricken with guilt, wanting to do more, but needing to balance her own life with an intense desire to help.
In fact, Angela volunteers with other organizations, like her local neighborhood association. And while that is working on an extremely local level that she enjoys, it doesn’t provide, for her, the same impact as cooking for homeless teenagers, showing them that someone does care, that the world isn’t always a dark and ominous place. It is even more rewarding when you uncover those timid smiles flashed at the plate of food presented, or the under-the-breath comments about how gourmet the meals are, or when individuals return for seconds, or thirds, because the meal is so good, so full of love.
While she’s appreciative of the individual recognition, she is adamant that this is not about her. This is, above all, about teenagers, about helping humans in our communities. It’s also about the volunteers, and the larger Verity team that helps support the event. And, as Angela points out multiple times, it’s not even about Verity. It’s about humans helping humans, about giving back and providing food and conversation and warmth to individuals in need. We’re lucky to work at a company that goes out of its way to support and encourage us to participate in these activities, because it allows us to help those who could use it most. We’re lucky to have Angela as an example of how to live a good, purposeful, fulfilling life.
Thank you, Angela. For everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing, and everything you’ll do. Without you, we wouldn’t be as good as we are.
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