Bridging the Gap, Together

Mandy Culbreath

“What is happening on the ground with people? I want to help, but I don’t know where to start…” This is a common lament I hear here at Trinity. At the same time, the Brown Bag Lunch staff encounters the daily challenges that many of our neighbors deal with – difficult issues created by a lack of resources. How can we bridge this gap?

Brown Bag Lunch Volunteer at St. Paul's Chapel

Reflecting on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the holiday our country now celebrates, the answer lies in our call to honor his legacy by continuing his pursuit of racial equity and economic justice. In his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize address, Dr. King states a forgotten truth of his ministry: “If a man is to redeem his spiritual and moral ‘lag,’ he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of the world. Poverty is one of the most urgent items on the agenda of modern life.”

This year, you don’t even have to go all out; just take an hour to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. On January 21, from 10am to 12:30pm in St. Paul’s Chapel, our community will embark on an experience together: "This is America: A Poverty Simulation." This interactive exercise invites participants to take on the story and challenges of real people experiencing poverty. Each role is a family’s actual experience based on information from US Census data. Participants simulate four weeks in real scenarios:

  • Your family may need to choose between Metrocards or healthcare.
  • Do you skip an hour of work to get to the bank before it closes?
  • Where does your family go if you are unexpectedly evicted and the local non-profit has already hit their charity budget limit?

St. Paul's will turn into a mini neighborhood, with community resources situated in the wings behind our historic pillars, and family home chair groupings in the center of the room. When the whistle blows, we move on to the next week. Watch this video from the University of Michigan to see what participants can expect during the activity.

The exercise will illuminate truths that our church family and Brown Bag guests and staff see regularly. For those who have struggled with a lack of resources, as well as those who are awakening to these hardships for the first time, a simulation like this is both disruptive and illuminating. Taking on a role that is different from your own experience can provide new language to articulate how we can all be a presence of love in such circumstances.

We hope that this experience prompts communal and systemic questions: How are we helping those who live day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck? How could the stop-gap services we provide be more in tune with our world?

We are pleased to have Alex Soto, an expert from Bronxworks, facilitating the exercise and our discussion. Bronxworks has served New Yorkers for more than 80 years to bridge social and economic gulfs. By inviting the wisdom and historical expertise of Bronxworks into our 2019 MLK Jr. Day of Service, we look forward to a meaningful shared experience. I invite everyone to participate in this worthy endeavor. Sign up to join us here.