Eleven years ago I said “yes” to running The Gathering Place. I was a little apprehensive at first as I had little direct experience supporting the poor and unsheltered in our community. I quickly went from being afraid of homeless people to engaging in conversation, learning how wonderfully strong they really are. There are so many reasons why someone experiences homelessness. No two stories are the same.

There is Bill who had been an ironworker traveling the world. He fell off a roof while helping a friend. His accident was not work-related so the cost for his care and rehabilitation forced him into financial ruin. He wrote a piece about Scars of Life that is printed in our booklet from our writing class.

Alvin spent his life walking all over Maine, he was an avid fisherman but worked many jobs including painting the steeple of the baptist church in Rangeley where I now live. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of a kind and wonderful man who was our very first guest. He showed up on The Gathering Place’s first day, looked around, and took it upon himself to make sure people knew that The Gathering Place was open and there to help. He was full of great stories and was very accomplished at hooking rugs. One of his most beautiful pieces hangs at The Gathering Place for everyone to experience.

Mike seems to be always poor but devoted to his chronically ill wife. His intelligence shines through his writing, also in our booklet. He cares so deeply for all of our guests and would give his last penny to help someone else in need. He would like to help build affordable housing for those who are homeless, especially families.

Kathy escaped domestic violence and studies to be a nurse. She was finally able to bring her daughter to live with her and continues to work very hard to improve her life and create a safe, stable life for her daughter.

Rob lost his family as a result of hurricane Katrina. He is still very angry and in pain. We treat him with kindness which is all we can do.

Charlene was a spokesperson for The Gathering Place as she eloquently spoke of being just a regular wife of a veteran with two kids down on their luck. She wasn’t angry, just hopeful for a better future. I sympathized with her and she kept coming back. Eventually, she found an apartment.

I consider all of my friends at The Gathering Place miracles and have been humbled by so many others. One fall day, probably 2011, I was sitting with folks at The Gathering Place when a man and a woman came up to me and said they worked in the laundry at Maine Medical Center. They asked me if I thought The Gathering Place could use 2,000 blankets. Of course we could! Winter was coming and so many of our guests were experiencing homelessness. The hospital was going to throw them out as they had ordered new ones but thought it would be worthwhile to see if they could find another purpose for them.

Ed, one of our founders, took charge and borrowed a truck from Habitat for Humanity to pick up the blankets. He then dispersed them to every nonprofit that helped people including the Red Cross. The rest he kept in his garage and gave them out as needed. I call that an extra special miracle because I don’t even know how the couple knew about us. Perhaps good things happen by people talking about it.

Many, if not all of The Gathering Place’s guests experience food insecurity. MCHPP is so supportive of making sure no one in our community goes hungry. However, when you are unsheltered it is difficult to store food when you are constantly moving from one location to the next. When all you have is your backpack, it is difficult to carry a lot of food. Then another miracle, Rusty’s Market reached out to The Gathering Place to ask if they could donate their leftover food to our guests. All pre-cooked and packed for travel. Thousands of meals later, it has had a tremendous positive impact on the health of our guests.

I can remember at least 100 more people involved with The Gathering Place. I will never forget the friends I have made along the way. Or the faith of those involved. It’s a hard road to be poor, to be alone, to be homeless. But thanks to the many volunteers and the generosity of the Brunswick area we are an oasis in the cruel desert. And we are still going strong. I call that a miracle

We have delayed celebrating our 10 year anniversary, but hope to do so next spring. We want to celebrate with a big party inviting everyone, guests, volunteers, donors and the town of Brunswick. Stay tuned.

Bunny Fazekas is a volunteer at The Gathering Place. Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community. 

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: