In the shadow of buildings recently the objects of protest against perceived misuses of municipal power, several hundred people gathered Saturday for the fourth annual People’s BBQ for the Homeless. And social media had a lot to do with it.
Denise McNeil, a caterer who likes to meet new people, saw Bonnie Lane’s announcement on Facebook and decided to volunteer. So did Jennifer Hibbert, an MTA employee, and Janice Hughes, a caregiver at Johns Hopkins Hospital. They, like many others, responded with money, with donations of food and supplies, and with time to set up, serve and clean up in St. Vincent de Paul Church Park, located a stone’s throw from City Hall and Baltimore Police Department headquarters. There were representatives — from faith communities “selling hope among the most hopeless, spending time with people who really need our help” as “Brother A.J.” — Antoine Jefferson — of Shiloh Baptist Church put it. There were parents teaching children valuable lessons about sharing and caring. There were DJs from Loyola University. There were people for whom this was a Saturday stop in their daily treks around the city in search of a meal and leftovers to cart away in knapsacks and shopping bags. Along with hotdogs, hamburgers at this barbecue, they found free clothing and free cellphones, too.
Bonnie Lane, an advocate for the homeless who once lived on streets near St. Vincent de Paul, Baltimore’s oldest Catholic parish, was the primary organizer. “We put the event on Facebook and it gets crazy. Everybody tells everybody and everybody comes out. Everybody gets to eat. Everybody has a good time.” A familiar face on the streets protesting against a variety of injustices, Duane “Shorty” Davis, was chief grillmaster overseeing a team of volunteer chefs.
“People get to do community service and we’re hoping they’ll find a way to do it in more places and different neighborhoods,” Lane said.
After offering a benediction prayer for the people and for Baltimore, Brother A.J. observed, “If we just take a portion of our time, all of us collectively, and give back, I really believe that we would have a healthier community.”