These two organizations really inspired me (I came across them while procrastinating on the paper I’m supposed to be writing…)
The Portland Fruit Tree Project - Created in the knowledge that fruit is expensive, and therefore hard to come by in low-income communities. They harvest unwanted fruit from volunteer tree-owners’ yards and distribute about 75% of each harvest to local food banks. (Such a great idea, may I add – when I did the Los Angeles Urban Project two summers ago, my team worked in a food and clothing distribution warehouse some days. Fresh produce was really hard to come by – as we ourselves experienced, being on a low budget – and in the warehouse, it was often old and wilted, and yet it got snapped up right away. And yet fruit and vegetables are so essential to good nutrition and health. The fruit tree project makes me want to suggest something of the sort to Stanford campus, which has a ton of decorative fruit trees whose fruit never gets eaten and just gets thrown away by the maintenance people when it falls to the ground…)
Sisters of the Road Cafe – They try to provide a dignified dining environment for people. They provide nutritious, low-priced meals that people can pay for with either cash, food stamps, or bartered labor (I looked at some of their photos, and boy does it seem much better than the conditions at the soup kitchen we cooked breakfast for during LAUP…not that they didn’t try, but the need was much greater than their means, and they didn’t have enough money to maintain itself well, and the result was that many people often went away still hungry).
Someday, I’d like to start a Christian nonprofit language and literary arts center . The main program, of course, would be providing youth and even adults with a creative outlet and a sense of voice through the literary arts (book clubs, creative writing classes, art exhibits, readings, publications, etc), but also to provide free basic training and supplementary tutoring, both for adults and young people (literacy programs and adult reading classes, SAT verbal and college essay tutorials, ESL classes, tutoring in everything from basic grammar to AP English to creative composition). With, of course, other services to make it easier for low-income students and adults to attend (bus tokens, free dinners for people taking night courses or kids who have to stay late for after-school tutoring, etc.) I’ve learned a lot about various different organizations that provide these services (in particular, WritersCorps San Francisco — with its creative writing program — and Next Generation Scholars — with its free SAT and college prep services, have been really inspirational). But few programs I’ve seen combine all of these services into one central location, and serve both adults and young people (there’s a great need for tutoring on all levels in many poorer immigrant communities) — let alone from a Christian standpoint.
To me, faith is really important to any goal. Nothing — even the pursuit of social justice, which is often secularized — really “works” without the influence and intervention of God, and my summer spent working and living at Cov Pres during LAUP really showed me how God’s heart breaks for social injustice in the inner city and will answer prayer in really miraculous ways when people (like Pastors Rob and Adele Langworthy, who have in many ways given their whole lives to loving the neighborhood around them) who are pursuing the ways of the Kingdom and giving their lives over to the work of loving people seek Him out in faith. What about organizations who are doing great things from a secular context? I believe God works through them, too, and honors their work — but it’s God that’s the moving force behind the change that these people relentlessly and lovingly pursue, not human labor alone.
Sometimes I sit and dream about what an organization of the kind I envision could look like — but I have to catch myself. Dreaming big is good, but I have to focus on the here and now. Right now, God’s calling me to finish campus ministry and academic preparation at Stanford, and then perhaps to further training in teaching and writing in grad school (my desire to pursue an MFA rather than a PhD was largely motivated by the long-term dreams — about writing, teaching, and faithfully using the gifts that He’s given me to pursue social justice — that He’s been planting in me ever since LAUP). Right now, I need to focus on the task at hand. (Which…oh goodness…means I ought to do something about this paper…sigh…you can’t win with procrastination, can you?)