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Ray Trower

Paul Wellman (file)

Ray Trower


For The Sake of a Meal

How a Free Lunch Saved My Life


It was a need for a meal that caused me to enter the gates of Casa Esperanza. It may have been that very meal that saved my life.

I generally stay away from shelters, avoiding the crowds, noise, and chaos you usually get at day centers. It was hunger that changed my mind that day—hard to believe it was almost two years ago. My first few visits to Casa Esperanza were for the meal only; it was also my only meal of the day. On my third visit, I swallowed my pride and asked for help.

I had no intention of coming to Santa Barbara. I really don’t recall why I came here, but here I was, tired, hungry, and broke. I’d spent my last few dollars on fuel for my car and wraps (duct tape and diapers) for the ulcerations on my legs. Food was my last thought. It was easy to get. I was not below digging through dumpsters to search for food.

While standing in line for lunch I would overhear people talking about Casa Esperanza and the services it provided. I was in dire need of medical attention for my legs, which was provided free of charge. It took about a week for me to take the next step and ask about a shelter bed—and I was admitted. I was more interested in the meals and medical services than I was a place to sleep. By my fourth week at Casa Esperanza I had been hospitalized twice, once for the ulcerations on my legs and a second time for congestive heart failure.

That’s why I can say that if it weren’t for that meal I may have died. Now a group of people want to take those meals away. I find this hard to believe. They say that the free meals are drawing undesirables to their neighborhoods, cluttering up their streets, driving customers away. All I can say is that I apologize on behalf of those undesirables, who seldom, if at all, use the services at the day center. For every undesirable you see on the corner or at the park, I can show you 20 or more who are trying to improve their lives, and, yes, I became one of them. Upon receiving disability checks, I also became a customer of the very businesses that wish to close access to the Casa Esperanza’s Community Kitchen.

I would like to challenge those who wish to close the kitchen to come to the day center during lunch, volunteer to help serve lunch, or just observe standing at the door, then tell each person as they leave that you are fighting to take away their meal, for most of them their only meal.

Stand there, look them in the eye, and tell them why. Tell the mother with her children. Tell the seniors who come there for a free meal to help make ends meet, who have to choose between food, medication, or heat. Yes, tell 300 people that you want to take their food away because of a few undesirables.

The people who utilize the day center are not all vagrants, bums, panhandlers or addicts. We are people, human beings, who are asking for a hand up, not a hand out. We demand the same rights you take for granted. We demand the right to food, clothing, and shelter. We demand the right to change our lives for the better.

My name is Raymond Trower. In January 2009 I was homeless, ill, and at one point close to death. I spent 11 months at Casa Esperanza. I moved out on the 24th of December, 2009, into my own apartment: my first one in years. I am still on disability and hope to change that some day. I publish a small digest, Street Voice, for the homeless, and I am currently a Homeless Representative on the “Bringing Our Community Home” 10-Year Plan’s board. I hope to be the same representative on Casa Esperanza’s board too. All of this was accomplished for the sake of a meal.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Cure the disease and kill the patient,” by Francis Bacon. This, I do believe, is what people are attempting to do by closing the Community Kitchen’s day lunch program.

Let me remind you that in today’s economy, most people are one paycheck away from being homeless. And there is an ever-increasing number of seniors and women with children needing the services provided by the day center—namely, the meal.

This story was first published on the blog Homeless in Santa Barbara.

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