Glad Meals & Safe Harbor – Volunteer Profile

From Dark Alleys to Hot Waffles

From a young age, I’ve been warned to avoid dark alleys, scruffy-looking men and anyone who appears to be “not all there.” Especially as a young, female runner, I was told to never go in the areas where homeless people were: Don’t go under the Union Street Bridge, avoid the Boardman Trail unless you’re with a group, and have pepper spray at the ready, always.

It seemed very clear to me that everyone thought the members of the homeless community were the biggest threat to my safety. They were, after all, unpredictable, unkempt and dangerous.

Emily prepares food in the kitchen at Saint Francis High School.

Traverse City has a “homeless problem.” This phrase, “homeless problem,” is most often spoken in a shame-ridden whisper as if to conceal the issue, like a large zit on the face of our cute little city. But while it seems to be common knowledge that this problem exists, there’s not always a common plan to solve it.

In the last several years, though, I’ve learned a lot about the solutions that our town does have to tackle the issue of homelessness in our community.

Every Saturday for the last several years, a small group of volunteers has served a meal in the Saint Francis High School cafeteria as part of a program called Glad Meals. On average, they serve anywhere from 40-60 guests each week. Just down the road, Safe Harbor provides a place for community members to seek shelter in the winter months – including dinner, a bed for the night and breakfast the following morning. Last year, the shelter took in 172 unique individuals to spend the night out of the cold. These two organizations are just two of a handful in the area that provide resources for the homeless in our community.

When I first began serving at Glad Meals and Safe Harbor, I was afraid. I stayed in the safe areas, wearing my protective gloves, careful not to make eye contact to give anyone the wrong idea. Unpredictable, unkempt, dangerous.

It wasn’t until one very cold Saturday morning in the middle of winter that I let my guard down. I was serving waffles from the hot breakfast station at Safe Harbor when I looked up and saw a familiar face – a young man who rode the school bus with me throughout grade school. He looked a little older, a little scruffier, but I was certain it was the same boy who sat just two rows ahead of my brothers and me every day on our way home from school.

We lived in the same area, both carried heavy backpacks full of homework and both passed time on the bus by reading library books. We started our lives the same, but here we were – standing on opposite sides of the hot bar, in completely different positions.

I realized that morning that I had been afraid of people who were just like me. Though many of the people I was serving waffles to had mental health or substance abuse issues, limited access to showers, or simply had fallen on hard times, they weren’t much different from me – or really any of us. At any point, any one of us is just a few circumstances away from standing in the same line awaiting a tray filled with waffles, relying on programs like Safe Harbor.

Oneupweb encourages me as an employee to be a good steward of the community by participating in programs like Glad Meals and Safe Harbor. While I’d gladly do these programs anyway (Shhh, don’t tell the boss!), it’s an added benefit to be given volunteer paid time off in return. I know that I sit next to people each day at work who volunteer for similar causes they’re passionate about – making our town a better place, and our company a better place to work.

I’m so thankful to work for a company that fosters the outpouring of time and talent into this city that I love so much.

Emily Tewers is a videographer for Oneupweb.