A Dumpster, Saltshaker, Breakfast, and the Back of the Yards

A Reflection by Thomas Cook, Hope House Resident

Every day Dannis and I walk our dog at nearby Cornell Square Park. Weekday morning walks are usually more eventful as we usually see the regular folks who have their routine of walking at the park every morning, and we also see many parents taking their kids to Daley Public School (right next to the park). Weekend mornings are less busy and the park is more quiet. A few weekends ago, however, I saw a sight we normally do not see at the park. As I finished my first of four laps around the park with our dog, I saw a man standing for a while by the dumpster that is right next to the park fieldhouse. As I got closer, it became clearer what he was doing: he was propping the dumpster lid open with his head and then finding food and eating it with his hands. I could see that he had food he had found in the dumpster in his left hand and a salt shaker in his right hand to season it. He continued to rummage around for food, find some he was thought was suitable for eating, season it with his salt shaker, and then eat it. Apparently this was his breakfast.


21st century America and we still have people eating out of dumpsters. One doesn’t have to go to a third world country to witness extreme poverty–it’s right here in our own city. How is this possible, and how does this happen in the so called ‘greatest nation on earth’?

I would say it’s because we have a misunderstanding of wealth and resources. Somehow we have been led to believe that wealth and resources are infinite. Our American culture teaches us that there is unlimited wealth out there for the taking: enough for everyone to have as much as they want and desire, and then some. You can acquire as much as you want with little or no effect on others.  

Now I haven’t studied economic theory, but the above understanding of wealth and economics doesn’t make sense to me. I have studied the Bible, and, the understanding of wealth and economics from Biblical times makes perfect sense to me. Biblical understanding of wealth was that there was only so much to go around and therefore if you took more more of the pie than you needed, you were taking away from someone else and causing them to suffer. Applying this to today’s economic world tells me that the poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Going with this way of thinking, the man we saw at the park that Sunday morning eating out of the dumpster with a saltshaker was doing so because somewhere else someone was feasting lavishly and taking much more than their share of the pie (sounds like the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus–Luke 16:19-31). The thinking works for communities and groups of people, too.  So why does the Back of the Yards (clearly an underserved population and neighborhood) exist in the first place? Because other neighborhoods (perhaps, for example, Winnetka, Il, where the median household income is $200,000, compared to Back of the Yards–where it’s closer to $20,000) are taking and receiving more than their share of the pie for things like school funding, road construction, land development, and business investment, leaving the Back of the Yards with next to nothing for these same things. But I’m not going to lay all the blame on rich suburbs for the poverty of the Back of the Yards. Actually, I think we’re all partly guilty of this man eating out of the dumpster because we all take more than we need at some point and this has a ripple effect on those around us.
If you’re looking for a way to simplify your life and not use more than you need so as not to impoverish others, come live with us at the Hope House. We’re not perfect, but we try to live simply so that others may simply live. We live in and serve the Back of the Yards neighborhood. We need you to join us so we can work towards never ever again having to see a person in 21st century America eating out of a dumpster.


Welcome Sara with us!

We welcomed a new Hope House community member on Friday. Her name is Sara Haines and she comes to us from Aid for Women where she was working and living at Heather’s House, a halfway house for women. Sara is passionate about social work, loves water color painting, and enjoys working out and running whenever she can find a green space. She is originally from Joliet, IL and went to University of Illinois in Champagne.  Sara is excited to get involved in the Port Ministries and has many talents and gifts to offer the Port!

Welcome, Sara! We are so glad you’ve joined us!


Note to self: Don’t be that guy

A Reflection by Dannis Matteson, Hope House Resident

This morning, I sat down to read today’s gospel reading and what I got from it was “don’t be that guy, Dannis.”

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:1-9

So we have Jesus approaching a man who has been suffering some kind of condition for 38 years. For some reason, Jesus has the audacity to ask the man if he even wants to be well! Why would Jesus ask that question? The man is clearly suffering. I wonder if Jesus is not convinced by the man’s attempts to be well. The man’s response to Jesus seems to come out as an excuse. “I try every day, but people keep jumping in ahead of me!” It seems the man continues doing the same thing over and over, every day. He is in a rut. He says he wants to be well, but he keeps repeating something that clearly does not work. This reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In my prayer this morning, I saw Jesus in a new light. Just like he had to be real with the man in the story, I think God was trying to be real with me. I felt God saying to me, Dannis, don’t be that guy. Stop doing the same thing over and over expecting to get better. Do you want to be well? Don’t let my healing be your last resort.   You are well. Get up and continue your walk with me. I need you to get up so that together we can help others get well, and become whole. 

I came out of my morning meditation replenished by the idea that the work of justice is the work of healing. And, the work of healing requires wholeness and wellness on the part of each of us individually. If I am not allowing God to help me get up and be well, how am I going to work toward justice and the healing of others?

Note to self: Don’t be that guy.


A Walk in the Desert…Err, Down the Mountain

A Reflection by Molly Gabaldo, Hope House Resident

Recently, I had the humbling opportunity to travel with a fabulous group of physicians and support staff through Rush University Medical Center’s Global Outreach program to the Dominican Republic for a medical mission based trip.  We spent the week in a community called Peralta, a small village in central DR in which is the hub for surrounding rural communities; we provided medical care, listening ears, and willing spirits to our Dominican brothers and sisters. But this is not the point of this blog.

On one of the last days of clinic, we traveled to a community far from Peralta, atop a mountain where many workers would travel for months at a time to harvest coffee beans.  Due to the treacherous and long journey, workers were unable to visit us in our clinics, so we traveled to them.  While atop the mountain, heavy rain fell for about an hour, muddying the only ‘roads’ that would lead us back to our new found home in Peralta. Locals insisted the safety of our journey back, so we confidently loaded into the bed of the truck that had led us up the mountain to head home. About ten minutes into our plight, the inevitable stopped us.  The truck was stuck in the mud on a long incline….and I mean stuck.

We spent about an hour using dry dirt on the side of the road to try to create new, dry road underneath the tires of the truck and intermittently would physically pull the truck a few feet up the incline that loomed over us. It didn’t take long to realize that our hope was in a nearly impossible task, realizing that there were many similar, steeper inclines awaiting us. Accepting that night was quickly approaching, we started a journey that few of us will forget, walking approximately eight miles down the mountain.

This journey came after a long week of treating a couple hundred Dominicans, a wave of stomach flu affecting each of us slowly throughout the week, and now, attempting to pull a truck up a mountain. We were tired.

Our Dominican guides (turned friends) kept saying, “just 30 more minutes”, “we’re almost there!” It didn’t take us long to realize that “30 minutes” meant three hours. My Spanish is bad, but not that bad.

About half way through, I started thinking about the people who had walked on this road before us, and who will walk it after us. I began to become grateful that my backpack wasn’t a baby, or bags of plantains, or clean water. It dawned on me that my joy in the thought of our cold shower and mediocre mattress that awaited us was a privilege and a gift that few who walk this path enjoy.  Suddenly, my legs started moving a little faster but my eyes began to drift upwards toward the clearest sky that I have ever witnessed. Beauty in simplicity. How often do we allow ourselves to feel the power of simplicity?

A true ‘walk in the desert’. Lent demands that we strip ourselves of the complexities of our day to day lives. Removing the layers of a society that pulls our minds and our priorities into places that are not life-giving, that are fleeting and distracting from the simplicity of the love of a God who carries us down the mountain, tossing stars in the sky and friendly faces along the way to encourage us in our plight of goodness, of love. A God who says, “just 30 more minutes!”, knowing that hearing, “3 more hours!” is neither encouraging nor life-giving; recognizing our emotional limitations while still pushing us a little bit further.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Port Ministries or the Back of the Yards. Disparity is universal. The barriers that are faced by the community of Peralta may be named differently than those experienced by the community of the south and west sides of Chicago, but the aching realization of need are the same. We are called to ‘walk down the mountain’ of homelessness, hunger, economic injustice, gun violence, feelings of worthlessness, and healthcare injustice with our Chicago family.  How else are we to empathize to feeling the ache of one more step towards home? Walk down the mountain, your heart cries for it.