Left to Right: Lisa, Fumi, and Julian at the first Showers to the People! service. Blessing of the shower trailer at St. Julie’s Parish. Dedicated volunteer Penny & Andrew in special Thanksgiving celebratory uniform.
Showers to the People! is nine months old. Where has the time gone? It seems like yesterday when Sally took the first shower of Showers to the People! The glowing smile on her face as she came out is still clear in my mind. So many memories! I feel very limited and overwhelmed trying to summarize what this experience has been like for me. Meeting the various people who come for a shower has been nothing short of incredible, and I am grateful that most of them have become regulars. I smile as I think of all the people we see on the three days per week that we now offer showers, from Bill, who is in and out of the shower unit in less than five minutes, to Carrie, who constantly offers to clean the shower units for us. My heart is full of appreciation for each one’s uniqueness.
One beautiful aspect of Showers to the People! is that we get to venture out of our corner of downtown San Jose and into the places where people experiencing homelessness live. We are able to meet people where they are, to practice the discipline of loving care for others, and find creative ways to practice the Works of Mercy while staying dedicated to personal relationships where the gifts of all are valued. We do not always succeed in these aspirations, but we always strive toward them. Being in relationship with people in this way draws us more deeply into their lives and struggles. We began by offering showers. We listened to people’s stories and heard about the numerous challenges they face. Most often, we do not have clear answers or quick solutions for them, but Dorothy Day’s response to a question about how the Catholic Worker soup line started comes to mind: “If your brother is hungry you feed him. You don’t meet him at the door and say, go thou and be fed.” When we encounter those in need, we are challenged to respond.
For instance, how can we respond when we hear about the traumatic experiences of encampments being swept, our sisters and brothers abruptly forced to find somewhere else to live, when wherever else they may go will also be swept in a week or two? I remember one Sunday afternoon listening to a woman who shared about seeing her duffle bag full of important documents and priceless family photos being thrown into a garbage truck, even though the City of San Jose’s sweep guidelines state that these items are to be catalogued and stored for retrieval. Hence, Showers to the People! has also drawn us into advocacy work on behalf of those affected by such sweeps.
Ultimately, as I look back on this time, I am thankful for the love and gratitude of the hundreds of people who have taken a shower and their willingness to share their stories and let us be part of their lives. I am grateful for the numerous volunteers who have given up their afternoons to clean showers, hand out clothing and food, and wash our towels. My heart is full of appreciation for those who support us with financial gifts, prayers, and well wishes. Showers to the People! could not happen without this abundance of support.
We are now launching our “Keep Showering the People!” fundraising campaign to fund Showers to the People! for the coming year. Our estimated annual operating cost for three afternoons of showers per week is $25,000. Please help us reach this goal as you are able, or call or email us if you are interested in cleaning showers, sorting donations, gathering supplies, or advocating for the rights and dignity of people experiencing homelessness. We’d love to hear from you!
With Gratitude, Peace, and Love,
on behalf of the Catholic Worker community