(This story is based closely on a Tuesday morning street breakfast, part of Another Chance Street Ministry. Names have been changed, but the rest of it is pretty much the way it happened–about 2009 or so).
“Check it out!” Steve laughed, as he dumped half a dozen tattered plastic grocery bags onto the ground, and plopped himself cheerfully into a battered black lawn chair.
The rag-tag group, in the dirt parking lot, chilly hands curled around styrofoam cups full of steaming coffee, turned to look in Steve’s direction. Joe remarked, “Looks like you’ve been busy already this morning, buddy!”
Steve dug into the bag closest to him, and agreed, “Real back-alley treasure chests this morning!” He held up a pet dish with an attached water container, and handed it to Marie. “Your kitty is going to love this.” Next, he pulled out a couple pairs of slightly used leather shoes, one pair white, the other black. “Check out what great shape these are in! Looks like they might have belonged to a nurse. Anyway, they’re hardly used.” He held them out to the shortest guy in the group. “Maybe they’d fit you?”
Dave laughed and replied, “Don’t think so. I’d have to take a sledge-hammer to my feet to try to squeeze them into those. But yeah, they are in great shape.”
“%*@#%@*!” Bill hollered, as hot water splashed over his hand from the well-worn old thermos, which had tipped when he pushed down on the spigot.
“Hey! No swearing around here,” Vicky called out, and everyone chuckled, for this was rule number one of the five street breakfast rules. The other rules, as everyone knew, were no drugs or alcohol, no colors, no fighting – and rule number five, no yawning! Nobody was sure where number five had come from, but it was somehow appropriate. After all, coffee, juice, boiled eggs, fresh baked pigs-in-blankets or barbequed hot-dogs, and cereal and milk were placed out very early every Tuesday and Thursday morning on a battered old plastic folding table, year-round, no matter the weather.
A well-dressed couple, he in suit and tie, and she in dress and heels, walked sedately by on their way to work. “Hello there!” hollered Pastor Peter. The couple looked sideways rather nervously at the dozen or so guys and gals gathered round the table. They started walking a bit faster, the woman’s heels tap-tapping more quickly on the paved sidewalk. “Come on and join us for some coffee!” Pete offered. The couple peeked again over their shoulders as they hurried past, and shook their heads, “No thanks,” with embarrassed smiles. “Well, God bless!” Peter called after them.
The door at a nearby construction office opened, and a young woman stepped out, coffee mug in hand, and walked across to the group. “Hi! My name’s Joanne!” She walked around, shaking hands with everyone. “I work over there, and I see you out here every morning. The boss is out just at the moment, so I thought I’d come over and meet you all.”
Everyone cheerfully said hello, and Kevin asked, “Want some breakfast?”
“Oh, no thanks, I’ve already eaten,” she replied. “But if it’s okay, I’d like to hang out for a bit, as there’s nothing happening over at the office right now.” Within moments, Kevin and Joanne were deep in conversation about construction work, and others in the group were soon joining in.
Steve was still digging in his bags, and brought out a handful of keys and locks. “Can you believe this?” he asked June. “I actually found keys and locks that match!”
June laughed. “That’s a rare find, for sure.”
“Yeah,” Steve added, “but of course I also found some keys that don’t have locks that go with them.”
June looked at the two keys he held out in his palm. “Wow, those look just like the key I lost for my bike lock. I was thinking I’ll have to get the lock cut off.”
Steve handed the keys to her. “Here, take them and see if they fit. I’d just have to throw them out otherwise.”
Just then Mike ran across the street, a big grin on his face. Pastor Pete commented, “You look warmer this morning than usual.”
Mike answered, “Yeah, I actually slept well last night, even though it was raining and close to freezing! Say thanks for me to whoever donated that blanket, eh? First time I’ve been warm enough to sleep through the night since the downtown businesses got together and put those bars across the warm spots by the heat ducts!”
Three or four of the guys nodded sympathetically. “Know just how you feel,” Marv said.
Fred wandered in from the street, and went quietly up to Kevin. Fred was shaking with cold, even though he was wearing a jacket and warm gloves. “Hey, Kev, buddy,” he spoke quietly, “Do you think you could do me a favor?” He pulled off a glove and held out a hand with fingers that were stiff and white from the cold. “I got terrible circulation. Do you think you could pour me a coffee, so I can wrap my fingers around the cup and thaw them out? If I try to do it myself, I’ll probably spill.”
“Sure,” Kevin responded, and poured him a cup of steaming coffee, around which Fred gratefully curled his fingers.
Dana quietly sidled up to Pastor Pete. “I’m kinda having a rough time,” she confided quietly. Pastor Pete gently took her by the elbow and they walked a few steps away from the rest of the group. The others noticed, but respectfully kept their distance, as pretty near every one of them, at one time or another, had themselves confided in their street pastor.
They knew from experience that Dana would find help – a listening ear, a prayer, a gentle direction to relationship with God, some warm clothes, a place to sleep, a connection to professional care, a toothbrush and toothpaste, clean socks, food for her children… It probably wouldn’t be fancy, but she would be treated with dignity and care, with God’s love shown in practical ways, and that was what mattered. She, like hundreds before her, would be given another chance.
The sun was finally peeking over the mountain top, and its rays began to warm the chilly early morning air. The thermoses of coffee had run dry, and the baked goodies had all disappeared. Everyone pitched in to pack up the remaining cereal and milk to be saved for tomorrow’s street breakfast, and the last few boiled eggs were tucked into pockets for lunch snacks. The table and lawn chairs were folded up and packed away into the truck of Kevin’s old beater car, and into Pastor Pete’s tired van.
Steve packed up his bags, and was getting ready to leave when he stopped, put the bags down again, and pulled out the shoes once more. “Here,” he said to June, “I don’t know who can use these. But you probably know someone. Can you pass them on?”
“You bet!” June responded happily. “I know someone who could use them, for sure!”
Once again, Steve gathered up his tattered bags of back-alley treasures, tied them together, and lifted them over his shoulder. “Thanks for the coffee and goodies! See y’all tomorrow morning!” And, laughing, he headed down the alley to check out another dumpster’s treasure chest.