This is Ed and Lorraine’s story.
On October 15, 2001, we arrived at the community hall of St. Peter Claver Church for the opening of Trinity Cafe. We were not aware of the number of hungry, homeless, and food insecure people in Tampa Bay. We were intrigued by the mission to provide dignity and respect by sitting at a table with the guests. That day we began our 15-year journey as volunteers at Trinity Cafe. As we sat with our guests, we got to know them and what they were facing in their lives. We began to build trust, we made connections.
There’s Fred: thin, surly, with a perpetual frown on his face. He becomes very angry and confrontational if you don’t respect his space and his rules: never reach across his plate, don’t touch his glass, don’t ask questions, it’s best to seat children at a different table. Cross those lines and be prepared for a loud, nasty tirade. For some reason, he would sit right next to me each week. I did my best to respect his space, his rules, and provide dignity to him. But I admit it was heartbreaking to try week after week to make a connection with him only to be met with glaring stares and silence. It was hard to love Fred, but Ed and I both continued to let God’s love flow from us to him.
After more than a year, one day Fred asked, “Why are you both so nice and kind to me?” I broke down and cried; at last, a connection was made. Since then he smiles and greets Ed. He continues to sit next to me each week, and he gives me a hug before enjoying his meal. On occasion, he now also converses with his fellow diners.
Michael is a young man, outgoing and talkative. He lives on the street with aspirations of a higher education and a better life. Ed encouraged Michael.
He used himself as an example, “Michael, you should do what I did. Enlist in the Navy, see the world, and when you’ve completed your service, the military will pay for your schooling.” Michael listened, enthusiastically asked questions, and sought Ed’s counsel for months. People need mentors, encouragement, ideas and options. Ed hasn’t seen Michael in a long, long time. He doesn’t know if Michael has returned to the streets or if he’s living his dream. Ed says, “I hope I planted a seed; sometimes that’s all it takes.”
Ed and I have been part of every milestone these past 15 years: moving from St. Peter Claver Church to the Salvation Army and to our very own debt-free facility on Nebraska Avenue. The welcome hall of this location is named in honor of Ed’s dear relatives. We were both at the opening of Trinity Cafe 2 this year. We pray that we will be able to continue volunteering, making connections and seeing God’s grace working through our guests.