A Successful Samhain Feast for 2,700 Needy People|
Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 13th. 2005
Times Viewed: 12,061
Two years ago this month, Pagans across America were stung by criticism from the Bush White House. Jim Towey, assistant to President Bush and Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives said, “I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.”
Other criticism from neoconservative and evangelical advocacy groups followed. For example, Joe Loconte, a spokesman for The Heritage Foundation: "It's important to remember that in both Christianity and Judaism and Islam, to some degree, the basis for charity is a conviction that every individual is made in the image of God and is the object of divine love and divine grace, " Loconte said. "That conviction is missing in paganism."
In fact, Loconte added, paganism is much more oriented toward the self and self-expression, not self-sacrifice or service to others. That's why he considered the flap an "inside the Beltway" story that would only last for a couple of days.
Michael Schwartz, vice president of government relations at Concerned Women for America, said the controversy about Pagan charities is absurd. "Towey's comment was a mere statement of fact, " he said. "He'd never heard from any faith-based pagan organizations, didn't know of any charities that are run by organized pagans - and neither have I."
And Keith Peters, of Focus on the Family, said: "The Washington Post has been trolling for some little example of some statement about a religious faith that people find objectionable, " he said, "because there is a lot of opposition to the President's faith-based initiative, and there are a lot of people out there who want to derail it."
Pagans from coast to coast talked about it for weeks, and followed the story here on The Witches' Voice as it developed. It was possibly the first time Pagans were mentioned in a communication from the White House. None of us was happy with the way our community was presented.
Here in the Washington, DC and Baltimore Pagan community, we thought of all the years of food drives at Yule and during summer festivals, bags and bags of canned goods given to the Community for Creative Non-Violence or So Others Might Eat. We thought uncomfortably about how hard it was to organize everything: keeping up with our jobs and a ritual calendar is difficult enough, let alone trying to do charitable outreach. We thought about how small our organizations are, how un-organized we Pagans usually prefer to be. We thought about how we don't have churches like most other religions, how we have no place to run a feeding program. And some of us wondered if we had really tried hard enough to help poor people.
One woman who lives just outside the Washington Beltway in Silver Spring, Maryland, didn't wonder at all whether we Pagans were doing enough for the poor. Instead, Jennifer Graham, also known as Chrionna E. niGraham, had been organizing opportunities for Pagans to serve the poor for over a year at that point. First through her Crescent Moon Coffee Klatch, then in September of 2003 with the Crescent Moon Service Corps, Chrionna challenged the local Pagan community with a call to service.
Crescent Moon Service Corps has as its motto the Graham clan war cry: Ne Oublie, which means Never Forget. Chrionna interprets this to mean that no person should be forgotten, that all people in need deserve our compassion and empathy. Chrionna does this work in the name of the Goddess, but she understands that her recipients may receive charity differently: “When we give service, in whatever form it takes, we are not just representing our faith, but all faiths, and humanity. The person receiving our charity does not just see our Goddess in our face, but they see those whom they have faith in as well. It could be Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, Odhin, Zeus, Gaia, Zoe, their own mother, teacher, priest or friend who gave them support in their life at one time.”
Chrionna was raised to think everyone should support their community through service to those in need. She was inspired to begin her service projects for Pagans by human need, especially after 9/11. “I found myself walking the streets of DC and on every corner finding 3 or 4 homeless people that called out for help. One person just kept repeating, "You can see me, I know you can!" People just ignored him.”
The Crescent Moon Service Corps is organized so that individuals or groups can staff projects serving people in need. The volunteers are mostly but not exclusively Pagan. In the past two years, Chrionna has organized five events a year, such as serving the homeless at soup kitchens, harvesting vegetables at a local community-based farm to donate to homeless shelters and visiting the sick and elderly at hospitals and nursing homes.
But by February 2005, Chrionna became disappointed in the low turnout she got to lend a helping hand. She would organize a volunteer opportunity, and then get too few people to really make a difference. At the Washington-Baltimore Pagan Leadership Conference, Chrionna told the assembled local Pagan leaders that she didn't want to organize anything more unless she saw a marked increase in the numbers of volunteers. She demanded a deeper commitment by local Pagan groups to providing services for the poor, the sick, and the elderly. She challenged us to actually get out and work to serve poor people in our community, disinterestedly, in the names of all our matron and patron deities. Chrionna led us in forming plan for a coalition project to feed homeless people at our most holy holiday, Samhain.
The Samhain Sandwiches project was born just after Imbolc and nurtured through the cycle of our holidays, as people from different parts of the Pagan community met together to make the event a success. Samhain Sandwich Day was Saturday, October 29. The Crescent Moon Service Corps volunteer base grew from 10 to 60, and formed a committee board.
The Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye, Rosemary Kooiman's group, was the official sponsor of the event. Chesapeake Pagan Community provided the bread. Charles Butler of Ecumenicon worked tirelessly throughout the day. Cami, Ash and Laura provided the most hands-on help, during the planning and on sandwich day. Vivienne Colquhoun and Kalabran, of Chesapeake Pagan Community, came early with pop-up tents so the sandwich making could easily take place in Chrionna's back yard. Nancy, of Becoming, loaned the tables we made sandwiches on. A wide spectrum of local Pagan groups, and some non-Pagan groups as well, sent staff and supplies: in addition to the groups already named, Chantry of the Silver Veil, Fellowship of the Ancient White Stag, Idealist.org, Mugwort Grove-ADF, and Open Hearth Foundation all helped.
Samhain Sandwiches attracted diverse individual sponsors, and even some corporate sponsors. The Crescent Moon Service Corps got donations from Target and Walmart for Samhain Sandwiches. A local orchard donated many pounds of apples, and sold us yet more apples at a reduced price. The DC Capital Food Bank also donated to the effort.
Each bagged meal contained a sandwich, either peanut butter and jelly or smoked turkey with honey mustard, a protein bar, a piece of fruit, a juicebox and some candy. At the end of our efforts, there were a total of 2, 700 meals for the homeless made in loving service by Pagan hands.
At Samhain, the Feast of the Ancestors, feeding those in need is a glorious way to celebrate the strength of our own ancestors. When we feed the hungry, we honor the sufferings our ancestors endured during their lives, and we honor the strength they showed. At the end of the afternoon, we were all proud to find that we made 500 more meals than we had planned. There were also excess bulk food and juice donations to give away to So Others Might Eat and the Women's Shelter at DC General Hospital.
Several teams of people went into Washington to distribute the meals, going wherever need was found. Teams delivered bulk meals to Hickey Catholic Charity, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, So Others Might Eat, and the Women's Shelter at DC General Hospital. But many people received Samhain Sandwiches individually.
Chrionna described her experience like this: “Some went near Dupont, some near Union Station, some over by Farragut North and some near the Mall. My car went right along North Capital Street - my springy partner Heatherly was a champion! We parked any place we could and she would spring out with meals in hand to a single homeless person or we would park and load up to deliver to the masses huddled in corners of building parking lots, parks, behind dumpsters, in alleys, on street corners, in building door ways, etc.
One woman gave us a lead to go to the women's shelter at 18th and Massachusetts Avenue SE. We ran into Cami and Laura who had found a desperate shelter that needed meals badly and they were empty, so we gave some there too. One man I will say choked me with emotion. He was a white haired elderly gentleman, no shoes, the remnants of nice clothing on his frail thin body. A guy from the shelter was trying to flag us down so we wouldn't leave without helping him too. When I got to him, he had tears running down his face - he said, "thank you sister, you saved my life today." I will never forget this man, old enough to be my dad, so tired, and so desperate to fight for life.”
The Crescent Moon Service Corps' next service event is an Honoring the Elders Tea at the Alzheimer's Center in Kensington, Maryland, scheduled for January 2006. There are five events a year: Harvest Time at Clagett Farm, Pagan Pride Day Park Clean-Up and Fairy Godparents' Day, in addition to Samhain Sandwiches and Honoring the Elders Tea. Check the newly updated website at http://www.cmservicecorps.org for more information.
I feel lucky to have the opportunity to serve beside Chrionna at the Crescent Moon Service Corps events. I have brought my daughter Sophie, age 9, to CMSC events, and I try to encourage her to develop compassion for the needy. It makes me proud to be able to read back over the criticism leveled at the Pagan community from November and December of 2003, which I quoted at the beginning of the story, and see how wrong those people were. All of those neoconservative commentators and Christian fundamentalists and White House experts are completely wrong about Pagan charity. We proved them wrong, and treated 2, 700 people to a feast at Samhain.
Thanks to the volunteers of Samhain Sandwiches:
Rebecca, Carly, Cami, Ash, Art, Fern, Daniel, Nadia, Leslie, Charles, Teber, Rosemary, Caroline, Sophie, Vivienne, Kal and Ben, Paul, Antoinette, Denyse, Steven, Michael, Angela, Joy, Monica, Ashley, Carol, Laura, Amy, Lisa, Kerri-Leigh, Robin, Tom, Dee Dee (Taran and Serenity too), Heatherly, Marta, Anne, Lyat, Mark, Donica, Marcia, Cara, Julie, Mary Beth, and Laura, Brendan and Malcolm.
Article ID: 10292
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,331
Times Read: 12,061
RSS Views: 61,746
Location: Silver Spring, North Carolina
Author's Profile: To learn more about Caroline Kenner - Click HERE
Bio: Caroline Kenner is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Anthropology and holds a Master's degree in Communications from Boston University. Caroline has been practicing Paganism for more than 20 years. She is a longtime community activist, and has worked with the national and local media to correct misperceptions about Paganism and Witchcraft. Sponsored by Chesapeake Pagan Community, Caroline organizes public shamanic healing circles and celebratory circles on the Pagan high holidays. See Caroline's website at www.mythkenner.com
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