This has been a strange week.
Sleep deprived and wearing all black, I half expected the coffee shop near my apartment – and maybe even City Hall – to be closed on Wednesday (the day after the Nov. 8 election) as I commuted downtown for a day of meetings with City Council.
But the coffee still flows, the municipal machine still hums, and one out of four San Antonians still live in poverty. Nothing that happened on Election Tuesday changed that.
That morning I was regretting my decision to participate in Inner City Development‘s Thanksgiving 365 annual fast and fundraising drive. Two dozen volunteers are fasting, consuming only bread and water (and coffee) until $40,000 are raised. I’m not eating until I do my fair share, which comes to $1,000 as a first-time faster for the nonprofit.
Click here to visit the Thanksgiving 365 team page to track our progress and donate. We’re already hungry, and I’m still working a full shift at the Rivard Report.
New this year is a matching gift from local philanthropist Gordon Hartman of Morgan’s Wonderland. He has agreed to match every single dollar raised Thursday through Sunday at noon. If more than $40,000 is reached by Saturday at noon, Hartman will match an additional $10,000. That’s a potential of $100,000 that will go toward the center’s programs and projects, including the emergency food pantry that serves 180 families per month, offering emergency clothing, after-school reading program (with snacks), spring league basketball, and a summer recreation program. The goods and services are free to anyone who walks in the door in search of help, thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers.
By Thursday morning, ahead of the noon press conference at Inner City and official launch of the fundraiser, I felt much better about the fast – excited even.
Whoever you voted for – even if you didn’t vote – there are other things you can do locally to improve your community instead of stressing over national politics. Don’t get me wrong: I encourage you to stress about it, the more engaged brains the better, but one man can’t stop a nation from coming together and taking care of our most vulnerable neighbors. Go volunteer, donate to charity, sign a petition, mentor a kid. Be anything but paralyzed.
So, let’s do this. As we approach Thanksgiving, this campaign reminds us that hunger is a year-round issue. The money raised will stock the pantry for 365 days.
“My hope is that this goal is achieved quickly,” Hartman said, his stomach rumbling. “I’m glad I have the opportunity to, through this fast, be able to recognize what some people have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Hartman has been a friend of the emergency food pantry on the Westside and its founding co-directors Patti and Rod Radle for longer than he can remember. He helped build the original volunteer house on the corner of Chihuahua and South Trinity streets. It has slowly expanded its physical space and services, but it has yet to develop a plan for the future of the organization, founded in 1968.
Part of Hartman’s donation will be used to develop and implement a sustainable, five-year plan for Inner City Development.
“Patti and I could be crossing Guadalupe Street and the 68 bus takes us out,” Rod quipped, fully aware of his mortality. “What happens then? We have to be prepared for whatever comes. (Inner City) is going to be here for a long time in this neighborhood, but the bottom line is one has to plan for the future. … How can it not just maintain programs but expand programs.”
Rod and Patti, a former Councilwoman, have been the volunteer directors of Inner City for decades.
“We are not going to be the directors for another 50 years,” Patti said. “We are in a transition mode, preparing ourselves, to make sure that we’re secure for the future. And that’s what Gordon is helping us with – (in addition to) keeping the lights on, gas for the van, and actually being able to provide the programs.”
Rod would like to see substantial progress on the five-year plan around Inner City’s 50th anniversary, Nov. 18, 2018 – during San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations.
Special needs and charity work should be part of those celebrations, Hartman said. “We’re a very compassionate city, we need to express that.”
As of Thursday afternoon, 21 people have committed to the fast, including community leaders like Tricentennial Commission COO Asia Ciaravino and volunteers like Clionadh Murtagh, an Incarnate Word Missionaries student visiting from County Roscommon, Ireland.
Murtagh can be found at Inner City throughout the week, helping stock and clean the pantry, and tutoring during the after-school reading program.
“Mainly, I wanted to do this (fast) because it’s part of my mission to live in the community and embrace all the things that happen in the community,” Murtagh said. “I want to give back to the people that I’ve already met and people that I’ve yet to meet who are coming here under difficult circumstances.”
Murtagh is teaming up with two other volunteers to raise $1,000. She’s worried that as a recent arrival to the city who doesn’t know too many people she will struggle to meet the goal. Everyone is fasting in slightly different ways. Bread and water is the standard, but Murtagh will be on a clear liquids and broth diet.
“We’ll see how long I can go like that,” she said.
Click here to donate to Murtagh.
I skipped breakfast and lunch today, which isn’t atypical. I usually eat one large meal after a 10-15 hour work day. I don’t take care of myself – as my mom and co-workers remind me – and I take my nice apartment, brilliant friends, steady salary, and refrigerator (filled with condiments) for granted. I’m looking forward to this experiment – even if it’s more symbolic than an actual walk in a hungry person’s shoes.
“It adds to the idea of really understanding how people who are going hungry day in and day out feel,” said Richard Montez, Inner City board chair. “You can technically stop your fast whenever you want if it becomes too much. You have that security. But a lot of people don’t have that. It’s a re-centering, kind of a humbling moment, to really understand how scary it is to not know where your next meal will come from.”
Imagine if you couldn’t feed your kids. How would you explain that to them?
Part of what Inner City does is “help parents maintain the dignity one needs to be a good parent,” Montez said. “We do all kinds of programming, but this is our biggest fundraiser and our most important one.”