On Christmas Day, Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to Utah’s last five governors and the state’s leading advocate for the homeless, hosted–as she does every year–a dinner for 800 of her homeless friends.
The steak dinners are first class and the volunteers who serve the guests their meals are among Utah’s notable, this year the team included President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Past events have included other luminaries, like Governor Jon Huntsman. Being invited to volunteer is a privilege.
Pamela limits the number of volunteers to ensure that everyone has a role and that every role is completed. She doesn’t want volunteers standing around feeling that their time and energies weren’t appreciated.
For the past few years, it has been my privilege to join my son Dayton as a volunteer at the dinner. It has become an important Christmas tradition.
This year, one of my friends in attendance Lew Cramer, President and CEO of Coldwell Banker Commercial, who is active in supporting the homeless year round, said wistfully, “tomorrow they will be hungry again.”
Unsure what to say to him, recognizing his point that so much more than one meal is needed to solve the problem of homelessness in our community, I said weakly, “We can only do our best.”
Soberly, he put his arm around me and said, quoting Winston Churchill, “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”
Utah has by several measures become a role model for the nation in reducing homelessness–in no small part due to Pamela’s tireless work. One of the things I love about Utah is that the community looks at our homeless problem as one of its top priorities and considers homelessness to be absolutely unacceptable.
Our community doesn’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t stop us from looking. The mayors of both the city and county of Salt Lake both independently commissioned community leaders and activities to come together to work on homelessness. The two commissions will be combined to bring the work together using a collective impact approach to formalize collaboration among all of the community resources serving the homeless.
The annual Christmas tradition of serving a meal to the homeless seems to be in no risk of being due to a lack of homeless people to serve in 2016, that seems to be community goal.
Once we recognize that helping people isn’t about having made an effort, that the gesture isn’t a solution, we can get about the real work of solving problems. To Lew’s point, it isn’t about our effort; it is about doing what is necessary to end the suffering.