Something very surprising happened on Tuesday's run. We asked a women we had seen before on our runs and at Harvard Square Meals, the soup kitchen in the area, if she would like a sandwich. She walked by us, staring straight ahead and said nothing. When she reached the end of the street, she turned around, so we asked her again, "Would you like a sandwich?" She asked us what authority we had to be handing out sandwiches, where we came from. "Lesley University," I answered cheerfully. She quickly walked towards us, focused in on one of our members. She came up inches away from her face and asked, "Who do you think you are giving out sandwiches in Harvard Square?" She yelled; she was furious and rude. She told us we should not make such broad generalizations, that she was working to get her PhD and was so insulted to have such an assumption made about her. She told us to go back to Lesley University where we belonged and to stop bothering innocent pedestrians in the square.
It goes without saying we were extremely upset and hurt. All we do is feed the hungry; our intentions are good. We were shocked at her extreme reaction. Typically, when people do not want sandwiches for whatever reason, they simple say, no, thank you. I have never experienced such a response. I was also baffled and confused as to why she would behave in such a way. We discussed ideas: maybe she was in denial or was too proud. But then why would she suddenly only stop accepting food now? Maybe she was on some sort of drug or was drunk, or maybe she has some sort of disorder. Perhaps she just did not appreciate being judged based on her looks, something that we are still learning to avoid as a club. Just because someone is carrying a suitcase or wearing old-looking cloths does not make them homeless. Even those in a suit could be homeless, vulnerably housed, or hungry, and so it is our job to ask if they would like something to eat. Our policy is that it is always better to offer a sandwich than not if we are not sure, because we pledge to feed anyone who is hungry, and this experience will not change our approach.
The polar opposite of that negative interaction were the two groups we came across. The space outside Bank of America was full of people huddled around, because those typically at the pit had to change locations due to the snow. They were extremely grateful and appreciative, just like the positive and happy individuals by the church next to Harvard Law. The man, who two weeks before had brightened our evening by making us laugh over the turkey sandwiches he imagined eating, made us feel cheery once again. He and his friends, the men who danced and sang Peanut Butter Jelly Time, made jokes, which made us smile. It is people like these that keep Lesley Delivers not only meaningful but also bright and wonderful. It does not matter if one person does not understand or appreciate what we are doing in Harvard Square so long as so many others have a good time, a friendly conversation, and a nice sandwich.
- Alex :)