Giving and receiving on Street Patrol

  • July 25, 2012

Heading to St. Patrick’s Catholic Street Patrol, I was apprehensive.  

The premise of the weekly event is to hand out sandwiches, drinks and snacks to the homeless on the streets of downtown Toronto during the hot summer months.

But the idea isn’t to give some food and move on. It’s to engage the homeless and to offer friendship to those on the outskirts of society.

With whole wheat turkey and mozzarella sandwiches in tow, I joined the group walking to Nathan Phillips Square. Just before reaching our destination, our group leader spotted two men she thought might want a sandwich.

I hung back at first, then joined the group.

A friend and I chatted with Bill for about 10 minutes. He talked about how he worked on the Rogers Centre when it was built (called the SkyDome back then) and how his father just had a big operation.

He told us he’d be going in to the hospital for surgery soon, but he was nervous because he didn’t want to be worked on by the med students.

Bill didn’t want a sandwich, he had just come from the Lawyers Feed the Hungry Program at Osgoode Hall.

As the organizers had told us, many people on the street just want some company. It’s still nourishment, just a different type.

As we entered the main area at Nathan Phillips Square, we encountered a group of about 10 homeless people gathered close together, made up of both men and women.

After giving out one sandwich, others started approaching me asking if they could have one, too. I asked others in the group if they wanted one as well and ran out of sandwiches.

I thought it was going to be an uncomfortable experience, but it wasn’t.

It was just people interacting with other people. I think that’s the best lesson of all. We’re all just fellow members of humanity and regardless of the amount of money to our name, both giving and receiving dignity and respect are priceless. Sure, recipients of Street Patrol gain. But, whether they realize it or not, so do the participants.

Going home that night, I opened the fridge to make a sandwich.

Seeing a variety of cold cuts to choose from, it felt like absolute abundance.

Fittingly enough, my father shared a page from a book he tore out while doing some stonework on an old factory earlier that day. It was a list titled, “Rules for Being Human.”

Bullet two resonated with me: “You are enrolled in full-time informal school called life. Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant.”

The last statement read, “You will forget this.”

I’ll try my best not to forget what I learned at Street Patrol. And if I do, I can always go back next week.

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