Last week I walked into the office (CCSJ) for an hour in between classes like I normally do, with no idea what was in store for me. My friend Bree, who, like me, practically lives in the office, was sitting at the computer when she turned around and said to me, “Lindsey, when’s your first class on Friday?” And I knew I was in for it.
This may sound terrible, but I had a feeling Bree was going to ask me to wake up at an ungodly hour (did I mention my first class on Fridays is at 11?) to help her with something CCSJ-related, and I, being me, wouldn’t be able to refuse. But I love Bree, and I love the work she does, so when she asked me to fill in for her supervisor (who would be out of town) in delivering Viva House bags on Friday morning, I of course agreed.
Like me, Bree is a service coordinator at CCSJ, her specific jobs being Care-A-Van and Viva House. With Care-A-Van, Bree organizes a weekly group of students to hand out sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and toiletries to people experiencing homelessness in Baltimore. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in Care-A-Van one Monday night last semester, when Bree had an open spot at the last minute. I loved talking to the people who came to see us and doing something, however small, to contribute to my city and the people who call it home. It’s one thing to learn about them at CCSJ, but it’s hard as hell to see the inequities and unjust systems at work whilst out and about in the city. It would be easy to become discouraged and want to give up, but Bree, like many of the people I work with, encourages me with her optimism and resolute character to continue in the work I feel called to do.
Viva House, the other agency Bree works with, is another CCSJ community partner. Viva House is the Catholic Worker House in Baltimore, and Brendan and Willa, who live there and feed many people from their home on a regular basis, run a monthly food bag collection, in which the Loyola community participates. Students, faculty, and staff can donate a whole bag, with requirements such as soup, pasta, cereal, and toothpaste, or they can donate bits and pieces of a bag, whatever they can do to help. The bags are distributed by Viva House among families in Southwest Baltimore.
I knew all of this and I was excited to see Viva House firsthand, since I had heard so much about it, but when 6 AM on Friday morning rolled around, I was not so excited to hop in the shower and get myself into motion. I was even less excited when I walked out into the wind and the rain after a beautiful summer-like week here in Baltimore. But when Bree greeted me at the storage room to pick up the Viva House bags, my enthusiasm for our work finally kicked in. It took a number of trips, and a couple of soaked service coordinators, but we loaded all 43 bags into the van and were on our way. As I sipped my coffee, Bree and I had time to catch up and have a nice conversation, something we don’t always have time for in the hustle and bustle of office life.
Before long, we arrived at Viva House in Southwest Baltimore and were greeted there by Brendan and Willa, two of the most joyous and authentic people I have ever met. Together, we carried the bags into the house (passing by a huge “Abolish the Death Penalty” banner on the back fence, I might add). When our job was done, Willa showed Bree and I around their home. I have never before seen a home so real, so beautiful. It was decorated with a variety of social justice-related prints, quotes, art pieces, and photographs, and made a CCSJ-er such as myself feel right at home.
Willa offered Bree and I homemade peanut butter cookies, and shared with me copies of some of the prints she made. Before we left, we hugged them both goodbye, and in that moment I felt more joy than I had in recent memory. Waking up at 6 AM, loading up bags in the pouring rain, it was all worth it.
I guess it’s time for the obligatory reflection/nostalgic look back at my year of CCSJ, both working there and serving as an SBO site leader. And truth be told, it’s all been pretty difficult for me lately. Many of my CCSJ friends are seniors, who I’ll be saying a final farewell to before I know it. Others are juniors, but they might as well be seniors since I’m leaving to go abroad for the year in September. The greatest blessing of this year has been the gift of working in an office of like-minded people, individuals working toward a greater good, a community that is more like a family than a bunch of random people who happen to work together. More than anything, I don’t want this year to end, because this community of people will never be together again. But if I have anything to be grateful for, this is it. My CCSJ family has shown me what authenticity, passion, and love are, and for that, I will forever remember each one of them and carry them with me throughout my life.