Living through the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake informed and shaped the ideals with which Dorothy Day co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement and created the concept for Houses of Hospitality. Her memory of this traumatic time as recounted in Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell seems especially relevant to our experience this year at Blanchet House:
“What I remember most plainly about the earthquake was the human warmth and kindliness of everyone afterward. Mother and all our neighbors were busy from morning to night cooking hot meals. They gave away every extra garment they possessed. They stripped themselves to the bone in giving, forgetful of the morrow. While the crisis lasted, people loved each other.”
Solnit notes that Day’s memory of the crisis was a touchstone for what a healthy community should be—people caring for one another.
If so, then the Blanchet House community is very healthy indeed.
The amount of suffering we have seen in 2020 is significant but so is the amount of kindness extended.
We see deplorable and inhumane conditions in our houseless community. Yet, our volunteers and supporters rise to meet the challenges of this crisis, propelling us to alleviate suffering with compassion and dignity. The kind of “human warmth and kindliness” Day spoke of.
Human warmth and kindness came in many forms this year. Volunteers served coffee, milk, and hot meals day after day, week after week, month after month. Blankets, coats, tarps, and sleeping bags were handed out. Clothing was given so that living on the street could be made a little more bearable or would perhaps help someone look presentable enough to get a job and housing. Thousands of water bottles were handed out during the summer and tens of thousands of sack lunches bearing inspiring words and art.
Together, we provided meals, clothing, and essential items to peer agencies, shelters, and emergency camps. The human services community pulled together this year, and our outreach has been all the stronger for this collaborative spirit.
I am mindful that the onset of a new year will not be a meaningful turning point for the people we serve, who often are unsure of the day or date. The suffering created by the pandemic’s economic crisis will continue for many.
Yet, I have hope because I know you are committed to our mission and that your generous love for the people we serve will continue during this crisis and beyond.
–by Scott Kerman, Executive Director