Eid Mubarak! Ramadan is over! Eid ul-Fitr marks the ending of Ramadan and is often a multiple day celebration full of feasting, prayer, and paying final alms! I can’t believe the month is already over. There is much to reflect on, so my posts about Ramadan may keep coming. One of the major aspects of Ramadan is giving. We spend the month sacrificing in order that others might receive and that we might be thankful for that which we do receive. This idea just so happened to line up well with my job.
I don’t think I’ve ever exactly explained what I do here at the Steinbruck Center. First and foremost, let me dispel any myths and confusion about the “Center”. It sounds like a large fancy building (I picture something circular, perhaps with a dome in the middle), but really, the Steinbruck Center consists of my office. Yep, that’s right. I AM the Steinbruck Center. I am the only actual staff member. I suppose, in that right, that I am even my own boss. And my office IS the Center. Now that we have that clear, let’s talk about what I do. There are basically two aspects to my job. The first is that we run a hostel, and I am its manager. This is much like being a hotel manager – I take reservations, book the hostel, hand out keys, and give my customers a tour. Pretty straightforward. The more important aspect of my job, however, is that for the people who come to stay in our hostel, we offer programming to educate about homelessness and poverty. This can include anything from homelessness simulations to bible studies to advocacy to service projects. I work with the leader of the group coming to set up a program that is fitting for them.
So, a main aspect of the programming we often set up is service projects around DC. In order to familiarize myself with the volunteer opportunities available, I was encouraged to check them out for myself during the month of September! Well…seeing as how I’m not much of a desk-job person, I took this suggestion and ran with it! Over the course of four weeks, I put in over 30 hours of volunteering at twelve different places! I did everything from playing with homeless preschoolers to bagging food to administrative work to serving lunches to chopping veggies to handing out clothing to the homeless! Each place I volunteered gave me a little more insight into the world of non-profits and the numerous volunteers out there that are helping to alleviate – just slightly – the poverty in the world.
Most of these places are just short term solutions, however, and as the domestic policy advisor from the ELCA Washington Office told me:
“You can only pull so many dead bodies out of the water before you head upstream to see who’s pushing them in.”
For anyone interested, the organizations I volunteered with are: Bright Beginnings, Bread for the City, Food & Friends, Washington Parks & People, Capital Area Food Bank, Luther Place Night Shelter, Community of Hope, Community Family Life Services, Martha’s Table, N Street Village, Miriam’s Kitchen, and the Dinner Program for Homeless Women. (The picture on the left is from bagging fresh produce for low-income elderly people, at Community Family Life Services.) Each of these volunteer experiences were not only fun but a good accompaniment to a month already devoted to giving and self-sacrifice. It was not always easy to work with food during the day, but keeping my mind focused on those who would receive it definitely helped.
As always, the trick about experiences like Ramadan is how to carry it into the rest of your life. It is more than tempting to eat huge lunches for the next week, put the Koran on a shelf to collect dust, take a break from prayer, and play Scrabulous in my office all day rather than being an active volunteer. (And I must admit that I was not so successful in avoiding any of these things yesterday – the first day of Shawwal, the season after Ramadan.) The point is not to do something so terribly hard, then feel proud of yourself and move on. Rather, it is to exercise self-discipline, prove to yourself you can do it, and continue to make it a part of your life.
I had a very interesting/challenging conversation about a week into Ramadan with a Muslim lady from N Street. She told me that she doesn’t fast during Ramadan because without food or drink, she feels too weak to do anything productive, and she doesn’t believe that’s what God wants of her. Instead, she said, we should be fasting from things that are hurtful. And, she added, in that sense, we are always fasting.
There are many things she said that I agreed with, and many that I didn’t. In my Food and the Environment Paideia Capstone course at Luther, we were asked to write a “food autobiography”. While most people in my class wrote things like “I’ve been eating only organic foods for the past year!” and “My mom’s a dietician, so I’ve always been very aware of what I’m putting into my body”… I started my biography with: “I love food. In fact, I’m eating right now!” Then I continued to admit my love for McDonald’s and my sort-of desire to actually care about what I’m eating. The truth is that I do love food, and whereas I don’t necessarily think that is bad, it has grown to be something I depend on to the point where it is hurtful. It was eye-opening to be forced to let that dependency go during Ramadan. And though I learned a lot about self-discipline, it is clear to me that I have much more to learn. May we learn to have to courage and motivation to be always fasting from that which is hurtful… hurtful to ourselves, and to others.