Last night at Free Food Harlem, when the initial crowd died down and service was slow, I took a break from serving and stopped to eat the meal we had cooked. One thing I love about our meals is that I always want to eat the food. When I’ve volunteered at soup kitchens or other pantries in the past, I don’t have that experience at all, usually the food is passable at best and pretty unappealing. A big part of Free Food is having restaurant quality food, delicious and nourishing, something you’d want to eat no matter what your other options are.
I sat by a woman who I didn’t recognize from previous weeks. I asked her name. She told me to call her Kat. It was clear this wasn’t her real name and I wondered who she was hiding from, what the story was there. She wore a dark floral dress and had beautiful elephant earrings dangling from her ears. It was an outfit I would have worn in a previous lifetime and I felt an immediate connection to her before we even spoke.
We talked, I asked her where she was from, about her story. She was a little vague about the details but seemed open, like she wanted to connect. When I asked how her her week was she told me it was big – she couldn’t even believe what had happened. A few days ago she had been homeless, and now thanks to a community, she had a place to live. Without any prompting she opened up and shared how it was her recovery community that had helped. She had been the speaker at a meeting, was celebrating one year sober, and when she said she was homeless, people at the meeting helped her out.
I got chills listening as she spoke. It felt like a higher power moment to me. I shared that I was in recovery too. Different program, different story, but here we were, both addicts. It didn’t matter if my addiction was to people and hers was to substances, what I’ve found for myself in recovery is that it’s all the same regardless of what addiction I’m using to get out of myself or avoid reality. And where I once thought I was better than the drug addict on the street, through my interactions with people at Free Food and through our Art of Addiction program, I see I’m no better or worse. This woman eating next to me was a reminder that once again, there is no “us” or “them.”
We were the same. Two hungry women sitting and eating food. Brown curly hair. Big smiles. A few days ago she had been living on the streets and I had been sleeping in a beautiful apartment a few blocks away. Different circumstances, different lives, but we were the same.