NCompass – Week 26

Where I Went:
NCompass ministry started as an organization providing immediate needs for the homeless in our community. They have expanded a bit, branching out to meet needs of those internationally. Their website gives a detailed account of their mission and also recounts the great story of how 2 friends saw suffering in the world and wanted to make a difference.
First Impressions:
Our church, Kaleo Covenant, partners with NCompass periodically to help deliver lunches to the homeless downtown. The organization also hosts Festival for the Homeless, an event we participated in last December. That one experience fostered the idea that turned into my 2012 experiment of serving in the community every week. 
The Job:
Our church group met Ben from NCompass at their regular meeting point, the west side of the Steel Bridge in Downtown Portland. Other volunteers prepared lunches that morning and packed the sandwiches, bottled water, and granola bars in Ziplocs. Our church group’s job was simply to walk around downtown, find people who couldn’t afford a meal, and hand them one. Kind of like when I delivered sandwiches all on my own. 
17 of us grabbed paper sacks filled with prepared lunches and split up. Some went to the Saturday Market area and Skidmore Fountain. Some continued up the waterfront. My friend, Sarah, her kids, my kids, and I walked west up Burnside toward “tent city”. We knew we’d find hungry people there.
Posing next to the artwork by “Tent City”.
My demeanor was pretty upbeat delivering sandwiches last weekend. Sarah makes me laugh and I love hanging out with her. Our 4 children get along and felt totally comfortable traipsing a few steps behind us, never hesitating to give a lunch to someone in need. The sun was shining when we were expecting rain. (Trust me – that is enough to make any Portlander giddy.) We were walking downtown, one of my favorite things to do. 
“I love my town,” I said aloud to Sarah and anyone else who happened to care.
Sarah loved being downtown on a sunny day, too. “It’s almost like we’re all one big family,” she said, “Everyone is so nice.”
I started to agree, but then I really pondered her statement. Sarah and I have homes. And money to buy Elephant Ears for the kids. And are able to spend $8 on two coffees. I wonder if the homeless feel like we’re all “one family.” 
I doubt it. We didn’t buy them an Elephant Ear or an iced latte.
Sarah explaining about the free barbecue that day under the Steel Bridge.
One big family or not, every single person was appreciative of the food we gave. I did feel a little guilty. After all, we didn’t buy the food. Nor did we make the food. I’m not sure we were worthy of the gratitude. 
Attention: If anyone reading this blog made meals for NCompass on Sunday morning, please know you made a lot of people happy that day.
It took 45 minutes to distribute all but one Ziploc bag. Just one lunch left. Finding a needy recipient shouldn’t prove difficult.
The last lunch. 
We walked one block. I offered the bag to one man slumped by a trash can. He wasn’t interested.
We walked two more blocks. No one there.
We walked another block. Someone was napping in a doorway. I’ll just go quietly place it by…Dang! Someone already gave him one! Why is it so hard to find someone who needs a sandwich all of a sudden?
I looked at Sarah. “Ummm, it’s kind of ridiculous that I’m bummed the man already had food. Shouldn’t I be happy that people seem to be taken care of?”
We walked another block. And another. Until we ended up where we started. And I still had the lunch.
“Let’s just walk back to the car,” I gave up. I couldn’t find anyone left who seemed to need/want a sandwich. If we had one lunch leftover, so be it.
We almost reached our parking spot when we spotted a woman leaning against a building, smoking a cigarette. Was she homeless? Was she not? Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is down on their luck and who you might offend by offering free food.
“Would you like a sandwich?” I decided to risk offending her.
“Oh, I’m starving – thanks!” 
She smiled as she reached out to grab it and I noticed she had no teeth in her mouth. That’s not necessarily a sign of homelessness, but I’m glad I could offer to help fend off the woman’s hunger for an afternoon.
How To Help:
NCompass delivers food in downtown Portland 2-3 times a month. Directions are on their website and a delivery calendar is posted so volunteers know exactly when to meet. Helping out with NCompass is a super easy way to acclimate yourself to the volunteer realm of helping the less fortunate.

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