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Community Matters....

Hi all. Today's message is about the neglected truth that "Community Matters" and underlies most everything that we struggle with in our area.
First, a note about this Sunday's missional community gathering; we are not meeting in the morning as usual (which is good since it is a Spring Forward an Hour Sunday) but will meet at the community center at 4 pm for communion and then travel to the 5 pm Taize worship service downtown at Trinity Episcopal, then out to dinner afterwards.
Tomorrow, Saturday, there is Pancake Breakfast from 8 to 10 am at the Odd Fellows Lodge, 6227 N. Quincy Ave., and weather permitting we have a community gardening morning at the Welcome Table park and orchard at 6005 N. Johnstown Ave. and from 10 am to 4 pm, with free lunch included, we have Community Art For All Ages Day at the community center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave.
In the coming week:
two meetings having to do with supporting McLain High School; one to hear of the recommendations being considered for changes at the school (for my take on how a holistic approach that is focused on the community is the only long term solution to what has been a long term community based problem: and on Thursday a meeting of the McLain Foundation to bring on new leadership to help us raise funds for needed projects at the school, already vulnerable being affected even moreso by cut in state funding).. And on Monday we will be part of a Food Bank special showing and discussion of the new documentary A Place At The Table at the Circle Cinema (see below for more about the first public showing and panel discussion that followed, which I was honored to be on).
..on Tuesday we will have a volunteer appreciation lunch and orientation about our emerging and expanding cornerstore and food community programs...
...on Wednesday from Noon to 4 pm we will have our Food Community Day, along with nutrition class at 12:30 pm, and other resources available. We also have our free clothing and items day during this time. Our new The Welcome Table Cornerstore is in its new and larger quarters in our building, and getting rave reveiws for how we have created a grocery store feel and empower people to choose their own food items, and we are just beginning to develop this concept further and look for ways to continue expanding hours open. Thanks to the OU Tulsa Graduate Social Work classes for helping to move into our new space, and to work in other projects with us at the community center, the park, and in the community.
...on Saturday morning, March 16, we will have our Big Gardening Event beginning at 9 am, and will be hosting the Tulsa Community Gardening Association as part of it, at 10:30 am at the gardenpark and orchard. We hope to see you and friends at any or all of these events. Or call to arrange a time to visit.
Abandoned Properties Project:
In previous email updates from here I have been highlighting the increasing presence of burned and vandalized and abandoned buildings, residential and commercial, in our area which affects so much; decline is contagious in many manifestations, and is considered the number one factor promoting crime in an area. We have properties that have burned and continue to be health hazards and have been untouched for months or years without any change. I am happy to report that the Tulsa Health Department has been involved in a windshield inspection tour of almost every property in our unincorporated side of our service area, and they have identified the severity of the problem on a property by property basis, developing a map for our area residents to look over and help to come up with the priorities in how to focus abatement procedures to get the properties cleaned up (funds permitting of course which is often the rub, since the property owners will just let the properties go and let a lien be placed on them for any future owners, and in the meantime the county will have to pay to keep the properties clean). The map and presentation will be presented to area residents for questions and comments again at the Turley public meeting Tuesday March 26 at 7 pm, held this month at the Welcome Table Community Center instead of its regular location at O'Brien Park, in hopes of attracting more property owners and residents. This is a good first step, thanks to THD. We have so far prioritized the abandoned properties as: 1. those on North Peoria and along the Osage Prairie Trail; 2. Those residences that have been rundown the longest and which are located immediately adjacent to properties where there has been effort at beautifying the area. Additionally, we might consider if there are ways to get more funds into the cleanup, ways that people in the community can get ownership of the abandoned properties that just stay on the county ownership for a number of years, and ways that our own local folks could be hired to do the tear down and clean up. Thanks again though for these vital first steps, THD, which we have been seeking for some time.
Food and Health:
We have recently had volunteers receive training in how to help get more of our residents applying for the SNAP food assistance, that only has about 75 percent of the people who are elgible for it actually receiving the assistance to help combat their struggles with food insecurity, ill health, and poverty. We will have a food assistance outreach worker or volunteer helping area residents during our Wednesday Food Community Days and possibly at other times, as well as allowing our computer center to help people renew benefits online.
On Friday night, last night, we had several from our community join with those from across the Tulsa area to watch the showing of the documentary A Place At The Table about the rising epidemic of hunger and food insecurity, especially among children, in our nation, and our state has one of the worst rates of the nation, and our service area has one of the worst rates in the state. I was honored to be a part of the panel responding to questions following the showing of the film which did a great job of humanizing the issue and the people who suffer from hunger and its twin of bad health and obesity, and of the policy decisions that have caused our nation to lose the war on hunger that it once was well on the way to winning in the 1970s.
Several areas needed to be emphasized even more:
1. growing one's own food is a way to promote health and for the poor to save money (growing your own food is like printing your own money), and yet so much of the nation's resources do not go into this healthy lifestyle and ecological affirming truth, and into school programs and community nonprofit programs fostering gardens and community health, but they go into major corporate agribusinesses that grow the ingredients that are in the processed foods that cause our health problems but are the cheapest foods and most readily available ones for the poor, trapping them in a cycle of bad health and limited choices. Even the food assistance programs which do direct giving of food to those in need (such as we do) but who struggle to have that food not be just more of the same processed food, even these are being cut in funds; and even the food assistance programs which are already way too limited ($4 average a day very difficult to eat on, especially to eat healthy on), even these are being targeted for further cuts and other limitations designed to punish the poor. We need to keep addressing the issue of why we don't support local farms and local gardening initatiatives, and why it is so hard to get local folks so in need to take part of the gardening programs we do have, and to change that by starting again with the basics holistically by supporting the schools and community groups where residents are to help them shift their default mode away from the one that treats them as a consuming object and toward a default mode where they are agents of their own and their community's growing health. We need to take the long view and invest in these programs and experiments the same way we do with the other aspects of our national security.
2. Many in the audience watching the film and in the discussion afterwards were expressing their sense of hopelessness and despair, especially at the political system that is looking to gut the very community oriented and neighbor helping programs that could make a difference in the lives of so many. What I wish I had said, besides the fact that the very presence of so many in attendance at the film and discussion afterwards was hopeful, is that the real doorway to change and real hope is always first through despair, through facing the emotions of fear and hopelessness and angst and confusing and even shame; it is the very desire to avoid these emotions communally that keep us from facing the hard truths about the facts of life for many in our community. And so what people were feeling was in itself a sign of hope. The most powerful part of the film for me was the women witnessing to their own hunger and that of their families and taking that witness to seats of governmental power where decisions are being made to prop up corporations instead of people; I think they would say that despair work is part of their routine lives, and for those not in their shoes to use that despair work as a destination point instead of as a means to a very different end. We need to focus more on how to get our witnesses to join together and become advocates.
3. The film did a good job of linking hunger with poverty, and saying the real issue is not why are so many people hungry, but why are so many people poor in the first place. And I would add that the real issue is the type of poverty as well; for there is the poverty that is mitigated and dealt with by the presence of a justice seeking community and there is the kind of poverty most have now that is set in the context of no community, no extended family, no neighborhood schools or groups connecting the people in the area, no "third places" where they once thrived; we live in a much more fragmented area and that "sequestering" of one another from one another keeps us divided, especially the poor divided, from the tremendous power they would otherwise possess and use. Where there is real visible beloved community, the vulnerable are put at the first of the line for attention, not re-segregated into areas where so many of the dominant culture don't have to get to know, or see, ever. The more we focus just on food alone for example (or low test scores in school, or crime statistics (which for our area we don't any longer get access to, which is something we really need the public officials to help our residents get access to), or the rate of heart disease or diabetes, the more we will ultimately miss the mark of how we seek to turnaround the realities so many face. It is not as "sexy" or as quick to focus on growing again a viable community of connections in this disconnected age, but that is what it will take across the board to wipe out these current realities for so many. We need to keep not letting even the urgent keep us from the important. Like seeing how government is just one of the ways we manifest community, but it is a major one and so we need to put its priorities toward the poor, instead of our current rush in our state particularly to shrink government; when you do that you shrink community. We need it right alongside the other community forming entities of private business and nonprofit enterprises including but not limited to religious ones. Even for private businesses we need to emphasize that community matters, that all communities matter, and that the moral and ethical way of being in community is to have a practice of not leaving areas when they struggle, but remaining and helping to grow them back. And we need more nonprofits and more churches, etc. to not just focus on serving/saving individuals but serving/saving communities. When communities work, so do persons, and so does their health, and their families and their schools. What does it take to educate a child at McLain, or to adequately feed with healthy food that child's family in the 74126? It takes, as we know, a village. We need to keep from burning down the village. We need to make it a priority and act and fund it as one.
4. I hope we can better keep spreading such discussions as we had tonight, for there was so much left unsaid, undreamed, so much going on left unshared; and not only keep spreading discussions, but keep opening up opportunities for people to engage in their own service-learning.

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