Community Crossroads Center

From The Perspective Of The Homeless: Spending Thanksgiving At The Community Crossroads Center In My College Town

A Shelter Experience, Thanksgiving Holiday Style

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Until November 21, 2018, I'd been only on the other side of the Community Crossroads Centers doors. Because of it, my sum knowledge about what happened there was stories. Donated supplies are stolen by employees. Items planted in backpacks, leading to the accused residents being "put out."

If I hadn't heard the stories, though, I still would have been reluctant to enter West Greenville. I was nervous about being in the company of the homeless. I was concerned that my presence would be questioned by those on either side of the proverbial shelter table (before that day, I was certain they would look at me and "just know" my real reason for being there).

Fortunately, I was willing to fight the trepidation and reticence. I had to be courageous enough to venture into the part of town between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and West Fifth Street, one I'd seen lately only through a few ECU Transit bus rides to the Health Sciences Campus. I had to be audacious enough to enter a section of town where I knew no one. That is unless I could count sightings of denizens who had arrest photos displayed on WNCT 9.

Beyond this, though, was my conviction about an important story being there. Granted, it wouldn't be one seen on the Hallmark Channel. Many people probably wouldn't have tuned in to that broadcast. However, it was a story that deserved to be told.

How did I decide to handle my role? I channeled my inner ethnographer. For the next fours days, I was the participant observer.

The experience started with providing evidence of homelessness (typical forms are a letter from a social worker or minister) and identification (in my case, an NC state ID). With evidence photocopied, my belongings (an ECU Jansport backpack) searched, a breathalyzer administered, I was issued a two-part meal ticket (for dinner and next day's breakfast). Then, with supplied bed and bath linens, I was directed to the women's sleeping area, where I set up my possessions and items around the borrowed bunk.

Five minutes later, with only the meal ticket in hand, I ventured into the cafeteria. There, I took part in the first common event of the experience. The first dinner turned out to be an eye opener, the view chiaroscuro. On the bright side, it challenged my beliefs about people I still mentally classified as "the homeless."

Instead of the scary strung out pack I half expected (and feared), I encountered individuals like anyone else I'd met in Greenville. Young children and college students (Pitt Community College). Men and women representing the spectrum of race and ethnicity. People from the south and north.

Unfortunately, I can't say brightened insights included the meal ministry group. To my surprise and dismay, this team (one of the six who visited while I was there) stayed mostly on the other side of the kitchen counter. Apart from talk that took place toward the back of the kitchen area, their focus was on two action items. One was preparing meals. The other was laying out the plates containing the meals. In fact, little attention was given to the residents for whom these meals were prepared and distributed.

Or at least I can say this about the meals offered in-house. On Thanksgiving Day, two local churches invited residents to come for a meal-breakfast with the Jesus Saves Ministry, lunch with the Temple of Zion International Ministry. These meals collectively were my second eye-opener event.

In both cases, views were positive. For starters, the generosity of the people was expressed expansively. There were members who transported us to and from the church in vans. There were also the cornucopia style meals consisting of home cooked food. As for the people who opened their hearts and hands, their hospitality went far beyond the preparation and serving. Not content to watch us eat from a distance, they sat down at the tables and ate with us. Instead of confining conversations to among themselves and on the other side of the kitchen counter, they talked with us.

Indeed, during the meals, talk and laughter flowed just as easily as the orange juice, milk, coffee, soft drinks, and sweet tea (this was the first time I experienced Southern Hospitality as sweet as the tea).

I've been on the other side of the CCC doors, so I can proclaim that people who stay at the Community Crossroads Centers are like you and me. I can declare they are worthy of engaged conversations, sustained eye contacts, and Duchenne smiles. Besides, wouldn't you want this sort of treatment, if you were standing on the other side of that shelter kitchen counter?

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Don't Forget to Count Your Blessings

Life is too short to hold grudges or to be unhappy.
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More often than not, many people do not realize all they have to be thankful for. It is important, not just around the holidays, but all the time to be thankful. However, since Thanksgiving is in just a few short days away, here are five important things to remember to be thankful for.

1. Education and Jobs

Education may not be appealing to people as something to be thankful for, but it is. The right to an education is something very special here in the United States, and I am privileged to have the opportunity to further my education, as the rest of you should. Having a job, unless you really enjoy what you're doing day in and day out, is also something most people complain about, however, be thankful that you have a job. The hardships of losing a job, especially when providing for a family is extremely tough, so to those of you who have a job, do not forget to be thankful.

2. Health

The ability to get out of bed everyday is a blessing in itself. Everyone gets sick here and there, but for the most part our health is in pretty good shape. Pray for those who are ill, but thank God for the good health he has given you.

3. Having a Home and Food

One of the most common things associated with Thanksgiving, other than giving thanks, is all the wonderful food that comes along with it. The turkey, stuffing, corn and rolls gets everyone excited. However, do not forget to be thankful for all the other meals you have on every other day of the year. Homelessness is becoming such a big issue, so do not forget to be thankful for the food you have on the table in the place you get to call home.

4. Family and Friends

Everyone gets their panties in a bunch once in a while, but try not to hold grudges. One of the most important things in life is family, so do not ever take them for granted because at the end of the day, they will be there for you when you need them. Thank your friends, significant others, coworkers and anyone else that has helped you for all they have done. After all, life is too short to be anything but happy! Do not forget to thank and love the people who have been there through thick and thin for you, they are the most important people to have in your life.

5. Freedom

Along with the other four things listed before this one, this is one to be especially thankful for. As a country, we need to remember why we are able to do everything we can. Thank you endlessly to those who serve for our country to provide us with the freedom we have. Be thankful for your life, because their lives are at risk every second of the day. God bless all of you, and your hearts. May you return safe, and have a great holiday no matter where you are.

This holiday season, and every other day of your life, just remember to be thankful. Life is too short to hold grudges, or to be unhappy. Life will get tough, and it will certainly test your limits, but always try to come out stronger. Anything can happen in this crazy world, so never forget to count your blessings. Happy Holidays everybody!

Cover Image Credit: Hammond

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To The Grinches Who Stole Thanksgiving For Black Friday

Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, but in recent years more and more stores are succumbing to “Black Thursday" hours.

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For the last 10 years, retail stores have been opening earlier and earlier in celebration of the highest grossing shopping day of the year: Black Friday. So far have these stores gone, now many stores are open most of the day on Thursday, Thanksgiving as well. Ask any person forced to work on this family holiday, and they will most likely tell you they hate it.

This year, my Aunt Alleen couldn't even attend our 2' o clock dinner because Walmart wouldn't relent. While the CEOs of these big chains eat turkey with their families, those at the mercy of their corporate decisions cannot even see their families enjoy a simple eggnog. This isn't right.

I'm guilty of going to the stores during Thursday night, too. Enticed by the crowds and comfort retail provides, I joined the masses. Everywhere I looked I saw overwrought Starbucks baristas, exasperated Target salespeople, and one lonely kitchen store owner whom shoppers seemed to overlook. Next year, I won't join the "Festivities" until after midnight--when it is actually Friday. Although it isn't shoppers fault for overworking the holiday staff, it supported by us as long as we choose to shop during the day on Thanksgiving. Although many stores open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, we forget that many of them have to come in hours earlier to prepare for the purge. People like my Aunt, don't even get to celebrate with their family--only their corporate family. Only those in relatively low paying retail jobs must sacrifice their sacred time, and that's a classicism trap if I've ever seen one.

To the workers who couldn't see their families on Thanksgiving, I'm truly sorry. This is a clear example of how capitalism creates a culture of greed, even on the one day set aside for the opposite.

The longer we allow things to go on like this, the more likely a Black Thursday will cement as a cultural norm. So what can we do when it is up to the ever ambiguous "The Man"? We can write, call, and contact local representatives to protest this injustice. We can boycott certain stores and support others who forgo Black Thursday vocally and online. If you're a worker, this becomes more difficult. You don't want to risk your job, so you don't speak out. It's almost unconstitutional that it operates this way--free speech includes speech against unfair practices.

Next holiday season, don't be a Grinch. Just wait until midnight to shop, if not the next morning.

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