Bet on me.
In December, I was hosted by Dr. Delaney Kirk for a series of workshops and readings in Tampa, St Pete, and Sarasota, Florida. Delaney was an incredible host, arranging readings in three different bookstores as well as a diversity workshop at a local university and a role as a guest lecturer in one of her graduate courses. Add beach time and meeting some incredible people, and you've got a happy, full few days. She drove me here and there and spent four days with me (during which she crazily agreed to walk the Flying Pig half-marathon with me and ended up convincing six of her friends to come along!)
Our first stop floored me. My reading in Tampa that night would be a benefit for an organization called Metropolitan Ministries and Delaney arranged a visit so we could see their work before the reading. We were given a tour of their facility, a most remarkable place in which people who are homeless or in need can get the help they need. There was a computer room where they could take classes to become computer literate. A grocery "store" was stocked in one of the rooms so clients could come in and "shop" for the food they wanted (at no cost) rather than be handed a box of assorted goods they might not like. There was a small apartment complex on site and even a school for the kids of those homeless adults who used their services. A large kitchen was bustling with volunteers who cook thousands of warm meals each day for people in need.
We walked outside to a large tent covering thousands of square feet. Each year, this tent is erected and decorated inside to be a winter wonderland for the holidays. Huge Christmas trees were being strung with lights; big holiday balls and greenery were everywhere. A cafe was being set up alongside a play area. Store fronts were being constructed.
Janet Pantaleo, our tour guide, explained that thousands and thousands of people who are homeless or in need would come to this tent during the holidays to receive help. They would be welcomed by volunteers who would invite them to get a cup of coffee at the cafe while they waited. Their children would be invited to enjoy the play area while their parents shopped in a big grocery store full of donated goods--set up like a real grocery store. Again and again, Janet mentioned the emphasis on helping people who are homeless maintain their dignity. It showed in every single thing we saw. People were given choices, not a handout. They were able to shop like you and I shop, enjoying the holiday music, drinking a coffee, making choices.
The toy shop in the tent blew me away. "Nordstrom's volunteered to help us do the merchandising," Janet explained. Aisles were marked by ages--Newborns here, toys for 1-3 year olds here, and so forth, like a professional store. Clients would be invited to shop for their kids, choosing among many items for each child, and carrying those items out in shopping bags--though none of it had cost a dime.
I was so struck by the emphasis on the human dignity of the receiver.
There is a small chapel in the tent, and clients are welcomed to worship there, if they would like. The walls are covered with prayer requests. I stood, reading their penciled notes, struck by the selflessness of the requests of these people who are homeless as they asked for help for those around them, not for themselves.
People who are able to shop at their holiday tent are wisely screened to ensure they meet the criteria of Metropolitan Ministries. They come from dire situations, mostly homeless, and find relief for those few hours. I was deeply moved by the work of this group.
Janet teaches a writing course for teenagers who are resident in their apartment complex, and has used some of the Life is a Verb exercises in her work with them.
My thanks to Delaney for making this possible.
In three VERY SHORT weeks, Delaney and I--and 11 other women from 8 states--will walk or run the Cincinnati Flying Pig half-marathon. I'm thinking we'll get so excited, we'll want to just go ahead and run the whole marathon, but we'll try to restrain ourselves.
I saw this as an opportunity to give back to Metropolitan Ministries, to support their work. Regardless of your religious affiliation (they are a Christian organization), the work they do is life-altering.
Do you think I can finish all 13.1 miles of the half-marathon? Would you be willing to bet on it?
Is it worth $1 per mile? $2 per mile? $5 per mile? I hope you'll make a donation to cheer on this almost-50-year-old-what-was-I-thinking, and to support the amazing, generative, respectful work they are doing at Metropolitan Ministries. You can do so here [in the comment field of the donation form, please put "Flying Pig--Digh" (hey, that has a nice ring to it!)]
I'm betting $10 a mile that I can do it.
Click here to go to their secure donation site.
Or you may mail your donation to:
2002 North Florida Avenue
Tampa, FL 33602
If you make a pledge to Metropolitan Ministries for $5 a mile or more ($65.50), I'll send you one of the Life is a Verb Flying Pig half-marathon extravaganza t-shirts! I'll carry your name all 13.1 miles with me in a tiny waterproof plastic bag (so my tears won't smear it)! I'll call you from my hospital room while I'm recuperating from the race! (Please be sure to note "Flying Pig--Digh" in the comment line so I can know who to send t-shirts to, and send me an email to patti(at)pattidigh(dot)com to let me know your address and t-shirt size)
Let me know you believe I can do it (can I?)--and let Metropolitan Ministries continue their fine work in the world. Every donation, no matter how large or small, counts, and gives back dignity to human beings just trying to make it, mile by mile.
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." -Winston Churchill