Where did all the money go?

Somebody asked me for money last week. I told him I had none. He asked me, “Where did all that money you raised go to?” I said, “We gave it away. That’s what we do.”

That is the short answer, of course. This ministry has expenses. We have to keep the TKJ-mobile in good repair, gassed up and insured. We have to keep paying the phone bill and for webhosting and internet access, for our mortgage and utilities, so we still have a kitchen to cook in. We are not housed by or sponsored by any one church. Under Fr. Noah’s leadership, St. Philip’s has disowned us, even while sending people our way for us to help. I still have not received SSDI. Bethann’s Unemployment has run out. She still has one more quarter of school. So the money that was raised helped to one degree or another to keep 20 people from becoming homeless, plus helped an additional 15 transition off of the street, and helped provide two meals/week and other help to about 250 other poor and homeless people for the last eight months. That is not a bad return on about $45,000. But that’s not the whole picture. About half of that money will be coming back to the ministry once I get my SSDI, as it will pay off the portion that is a loan to us to cover until that comes through. So consider that as a return on $22,500. I’d challenge you to say you did better with your money anywhere else. To survive until that happens, we need more support.

There is nothing in the bank. We are late on the phone and internet bill. Soon we will be late on the mortgage. The TKJ-mobile is more than 10 years old. We need to think about a replacement before it gets costly to maintain or less than optimally safe.

It puzzles me. People are always praising me and patting me on the back for what I do. Don’t they realize I can’t do anything without their support? Some of the same people get upset when I speak of quitting, saying that I should cheer up and “God will provide.” Yet they do not make regular donations. A lot of churches like what I do and like to have their children get involved once or twice a year. Don’t get me wrong, we are grateful, but think this through. How do they think we can stay in business to receive their power packs, or socks, or cookies, with no support? It is sort of how the faith of the Christmas and Easter Christians must be very strong, for them to trust the church to still be there for them after staying away so long. One day their parish may not be. If everyone were to do that, it certainly wouldn’t be.

We have been at this for over 25 years. We have been harassed by the last three mayors. We had to sue this one in federal court (with no Orthodox clergy standing with us. That hurt.) to continue this ministry. When one reads the words of Christ, one never comes away with a sense that his priority was on building a big stultifying organization for everyone to support and the poor were to be an afterthought. No. It is quite the contrary. Everything is about being poor and serving the poor. The only picture He gives us of the Last Judgment mentions nothing of dogma, personal sin, morality, tradition, or church. It only mentions how we treat the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the widows & orphans, “the least of these my brethren.”

Yet, somehow, I have spent nearly 30 years serving the imprisoned and the homeless, and I have found myself repeatedly chased out of churches by pastors and priests. This has not just happened to me. This is a common experience among most of the people I know who serve in these ministries. Complex PTSD from clergy abuse is a common malady among us. In all of the churches we have gone to, I have known only three, rare pastors who were not so threatened by my calling that they could deal with me honestly and openly.

Here, I’ve done it again. I set out to write a wonderful, fundraising article, because we are down to our last dime. This is what comes out. I suffer chronic spine pain as a result of an infection most likely picked up on the street. This pain set off my chronic, complex migraines that caused strokes due to a strange developmental defect in the right side of my brain. I have CPTSD from non-sexual, clergy abuse (bullying).

Cooking interesting, nutritious meals for the folks on the street and watching them enjoy them makes me happy. Working with people who also enjoy serving the poor and homeless, also  makes me happy. Advocating for and with the poor energizes me. It is what I was made for. We do what we do with no government or corporate money. We serve in Jesus’ Name. Come join us. Support us. We don’t hold onto money to build a large organization. We give it away and we use it to serve the poor and homeless in our midst, in Jesus’ Name on your behalf. Yes. I may be a cranky, achy, old curmudgeon around suburban, white folks. It seems most of them/you are uncomfortable around me. So support me so I can stay away and be happy, where I can do some good with your money in Jesus’ Name. God bless you.



There are no gaps to bridge.

Race and ethnic conflict is the hot topic from Ferguson, MO, to Gaza, Palestine. A common question is: How can we bridge the gaps to find common ground? That question has always puzzled me. I was never quite sure why. I grew up in lily white suburbs, in an upper middle class household, yet I find myself and my family joyfully accepted in the Black and Hispanic and Haitian communities. We have broken bread in basement churches and attended festive weddings. Race or ethnicity has never been a barrier.

So I got to thinking. Am I weird? Are my friends weird? I know our family has been blessed to have experienced such diversity; but what makes Sunday morning the most segregated time of the week for most people, but not so much for us?

I know I was raised being taught that “there is only one race, the human race!” Our parents entertained a lot. When they did, they invited people from all classes and all races to the same parties. We had Gov. Levander, all the sitting judges in the state, along with some waitresses, hairdressers, and folks on disability, and everyone in between, to one party. I got to experience the other lesson that my dad drilled into us: “Everybody is just the same. When they get up in the morning they put on their pants one leg at a time.” With this lesson, I was taught to fear no one, to worship no one, to put no one down. With all the different kinds of people getting drunk and letting their guard down in our house, I got to see this up front and personal. I witnessed powerful politicians and judges crying in vulnerability as I drove them home. I saw acts of class and grace from the poorest there. I was just a fly on the wall clearing dishes, emptying ashtrays, jockeying cars, taking keys, etc., learning life lessons.

My parents told us quite different stories from their childhoods growing up in the Depression. My dad told of his mom helping support at least three other families at any given time while the family skimped by. His dad had a good car repair business. My mom told us of having live-in maids and the lessons she learned from them. My mom would take in runaways, always on the condition that they had to call their moms and let them know they were OK. Invariably, it led to her returning them home the next day. Regardless, this was unusual for an upper middle class household in the lily white suburbs; the home of state GOP committee persons.

So I have this background. Then I studied the Scripture. Our story starts out with Adam and Eve. It doesn’t start out with Adam & Eve, Max & Olga, Sammy & Elmira, Omar & Ayisha, Chin & Xiang. We are one family! We are all brothers and sisters! So, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew (those are the religions who use this story), all mankind are one family! There are no gaps to bridge. When I see a man or woman, I see a long lost cousin. We have an icon of Adam in my house to remind us of our common, great, great, great, great … great, grandfather!

My atheist dad didn’t need the story of Adam and Eve to tell him we were one family. He knew we were one common humanity and that there is a law of justice or balance built into the universe, that whatever one does, good or ill, it has repercussions. He hoped to leave more good than bad echoes behind.

The first time I walked into a prison, I did not notice the iron gate clanging shut behind me. Many people have asked me that and have told me about how that gave them the willies the first time they visited a prison. No. I remember clearly. I was just struck with how terribly we were treating these, our brothers, supposedly presumed innocent. This was supposed to be a jail, actually. I had to walk through a two tiered block of cells with open walls, just bars. I could see every sink and toilet and bunk. The single TV was blaring Gilligan’s Island at the end of the block overhead. I walked the length of it on the steel floor to the activity room to have the Bible study. My eyes were wet with tears. That was me in those cells and it was humiliating. There are no gaps to bridge.

A couple weeks later, I started a Bible study in the Philadelphia House of Corrections. I was a Mennonite at the time. I had a beard and no mustache, dark curly hair, and round wire rim glasses; so did Freeman Miller, one of the other Mennonite volunteers in the House of Corrections. Occasionally some of the men would get us confused. I would just say, “That’s OK. All us white boys look alike.” It was almost always an all Black room. Uproarious laughter would follow. Over the years, it has gotten to the point that I have become the world’s worst eyewitness. I spend so much time among the homeless and the poor, I will be talking about someone and someone will ask me to describe what they look like and I will. They want to know what race they are and I draw a complete blank. It never even registers. I tell them, “I’ll have to take note the next time I see him.” They just look at me like I have three heads. We are all of the human race like my parents taught me and the Bible teaches me. There are no gaps to bridge.

OK. I’ve talked about race, but what about gender and gender preference? In Genesis 1:27, it says: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” St. Paul says that Jesus made them equal “neither male nor female” in Galatians 3. When I was in grade school, I was severely pigeon toed. I also had zero depth perception. I had to wear corrective wing-tips with custom heels or go barefoot. I couldn’t field or hit in baseball to save my soul. I was extremely bright academically. The bullies called me “Pidge”, then “fem” and “queer” and “faggot” by 4th grade. There was a group of about six of us who were routinely bullied. I was the biggest one, so I kind of protected the others. I got beat up regularly. I’m straight. I was rather precocious about it even. I started dating at 11. (Everyone thought I was 13 or 14.) But I know what it’s like to be treated like a queer. The Mennonite Church even defrocked me for being gay, over false accusations. They never met with me. They never even notified me of their action. It was because under my leadership, ours were the only Bible studies or services in the Phila. prisons that allowed the openly gay and transvestite inmates to attend. Plus I had spoken out in favor of the distribution of condoms in the prison. Is the gospel for all or not? Does God love all or just some? Am I to regard myself as chief of sinners except those homosexuals; they are far worse than me! I can’t find that verse. It was against the rules to have sex in prison. Yes. We all know that. We also know it happens. AIDS had just hit the prison populations in a big way. Are we going to preserve life? I told the rest of the chaplains and the wardens, if there were a safe way to do a needle exchange, I would like to see the institution do that, too! I can’t minister to dead people. “God takes no delight in the death of a sinner.” A Christian’s first job is to preserve life. I lost my chaplaincy for it. So, I was defrocked for being thought to be homosexual, while being married with four daughters. I do wear bright colors! I cook, sew and do art. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” (Romans 12:16a) So I hang out with gays. I grew up hanging out with lawyers. People are people. We each have our own battles to fight, our own struggles to deal with. The two most profound statements in the Gospels are: “Judge not.” and “Jesus wept.” I believe they are connected.

There are no gaps to bridge.

So why is there so much hate? It is learned. There are evil forces that would like to see mankind divided, and the poor and middle classes battling among themselves, instead of cooperating for the common good. So jealousy and lies and false stereotypes and racism all get injected into the mix and ginned up.

We need to all take a deep breath. Take a step back. Take a fresh look to see our own human aspirations, hopes and fears, in our cousins’ eyes. They may be a different shape eye or be in a different colored face, but if you look close, you will see Grandpa Adam or Oma Eve staring back.

There are no gaps to bridge.



Earth Bread + Brewery

The Philadelphia Inquirer has done a series of articles on us. The ripples keep on going out. Earlier this month I received a letter from Earth Bread + Brewery, 7136 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19119. Here it is:

Dear Mr. Coulter,

My husband, Tom Baker and I, own a restaurant called “Earth” in Mt. Airy. We read in the Inquirer about the tireless work you have been doing – feeding the homeless. Hopefully, you and your wife are in good health and living in your home with less financial worry since the article was published.

We have enclosed a donation of $225, which we raised throughout the month of July. We feature a different cocktail each month and donate $2 from the sale of each one to a different non-profit each month.

We appreciate what you do and hope that it inspires others to do the same.

Sincerely,

Peggy Zwerver

Thank you so much! May God bless you!

earthIf any of our readers go there to eat, remember to bring a couple of canned goods or a donation that they will pass on to a local food bank.



Power Packs

For over twenty years volunteers have been making Power Packs for The King’s Jubilee. They were invented by Teresa Gilmore at St. Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church, East Greenville, PA, in their CCD school. A power pack is a paper lunch bag filled with non-perishable goodies. I need to stress this point. We need to be able to store these in case we have too many on a given night. Sometimes these are colored or decorated with stickers on the outside. We give them out at the end of our food line in the park in center city Phila. This way the people have something for the next day. Teresa set it up so that each grade brought in one of the items that went into the bags and a couple of the grades colored the bags, and a couple of the grades assembled the bags. For over twenty years, I have never been quite sure what all goes into Power Packs. I’m just in charge of the ministry. You can’t expect me to know everything that goes on. I generally have to look up Teresa’s phone number and have the new group that is going to do it call her to get the info. each time.  That changes today.

The list of items may vary. I have seen some Power Packs stuffed to  the point of bursting and I have seen much lighter ones. All were appreciated. We serve between 150 to 250 people on any given Thursday night in the summer. Numbers are a little lower the rest of the year. Your group does not have to make that many. We will save them up until we have enough, then give them away.

  • juice box or can or pack (Capri-Sun)
  • crackers & cheese or crackers & peanut butter package
  • small boxes raisins, etc.
  • small box cereal
  • cereal or granola type bars
  • snack pack of nuts, chips, trail mix, cookies, candy, yogurt nuts or raisins, sesame things, sunflower seeds
  • pudding pack, canned fruit
  • travel size hand sanitizer

You don’t have to include all of those items. You may think of some others that are appropriate. As long as they fit in the bag and are non-perishable, it’s OK.

Through the years, Vacation Church Schools, CCDs, Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops have made these. A workplace once made these as a service project. The last time we gave them out, Fr. Victor from St. Stephen Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Phila., came out to help distribute them from their VCS two weeks ago. They were the fattest, heaviest 150 Power Packs I have ever seen! God bless you!



P.S.  In case you were wondering what those things are in the image at the top of this post are, they are power packs for photo-voltaic collectors. It was the best image I could find for “power packs” on a Google image search, since I had never photographed any of ours. My wife says I have a very confusing sense of humor, or something to that effect, I bet it caught your attention, though. Eh?