Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Open Table

"Our used clothes show up but we never do." - Jon Katov

Over these past months, I've grown desperate to find solutions out of poverty that actually work. I'm happy to distribute band-aids to my friends, but they need something more, something lasting.

Last night we went to a meeting that has me feeling like God's power is as big as He says it is.

I sat in the meeting thinking about all I've read about poverty, all I learned from my time working with him, but I never truly cared about it until I had real-life friends choked by its grip.

This? Rings true. It's all maddening and convoluted. How do we help? How should we help? Because at the end of the day, there they still are, often with small kids in tow. They have Pop Tarts and cable TV, but they can't get a job. There are huge gaps between what they have and what they need. They need a future. They need hope. Affirmation.

I can't tell you how many times I've driven home in near-despair, feeling certain that all of this is a waste of time. I couldn't walk away. Didn't want to. I just wanted a solution.

I may have found it in The Open Table and its founder, Jon Katov.
"The poor need our intellectual and social capital. Not our used blue jeans and giant cans of spaghettios." - Jon Katov
I mean, the guy's quirky. A little loose-cannonish. I love that. He started talking and I started frantically digging around in my bag for a scrap of paper to scrawl out his brilliance.

The Open Table model surrounds a person living in poverty with 10-12 people like you and me, people who will walk with him or her for an entire year, sharing the load, guiding her toward actual help, like a job and a budget, personal responsibility, a safe place to live.

I'm way, way intrigued.

But beyond that, tell me, why do we hesitate to go to the poor? Are we afraid that we'll be held responsible? After all, it can't be our burden if we don't even know who they are.

Man, if only that were true. So since it's already on us, we might as well get to know them, fall in love with them, see for ourselves how funny and bright they are.

They are the reward.


  1. Super Excited Right With YA!!!

    FIY - someone (no mention of names!) was snoopin on you during the meeting and had a sneaking suspicion that there would be a blog post coming soon :) xoxo

    1. Ha!! Linds finally handed me a little spiral notebook to take the place of my crumpled grocery list. :)


  2. Can I start a 'franchise' here in Toronto Canada?

  3. Wow.....he is REALLY on to something!

  4. Hmmmmm...color me intrigued, as well.

  5. ahhhhh. i love, love, love it. this gives me goosebumps and makes me want to get up and DO something, like now, in my pajamas, on the couch. the spaghettios and the clothes and the warm coats meet immediate needs but what about the rest? what about long-term? i can't wait to read more.

  6. Hmmm...such wisdom here. Lets keep this conversation going...

  7. Well this was just in time for me to share on Facebook tonight, and is just what our country needs.

  8. Yes, I've been thinking mentorships with life skills classes. Child friendly warm welcoming spaces that also teach, but this? You had me at "our used clothes show up but we never do". Love this, yay for some ingenuity! Some new ideas!

  9. Nice! "our used clothes show up but we never do"
    Can't wait to read more on this.

  10. What an amazing idea! Can't wait to hear more…Athens, GA could sure use something like this!

  11. I've been feeling for a long while now that I wanted to be part of something like this....very excited to see God continue to birth this in me and actually bring it to fruition.

    wanting to do more than clean out my closets and pass my clothes to the goodwill....wanting to do more than serve at a soup kitchen once a year.

    I keep seeing myself with a woman holding a baby on her hip....I'm an "all or nothing" kind of girl..pray with me that God will lead me to the right place to serve...the right people.

  12. You are SO right. People need a whole lot more than a can of spaghetti O's and a pair of jeans. It's so much more complicated than that.

    I know someone who left some poor people a couple bottles of salad dressing on the doorstoop. I was like, "Where's the freaking salad to go with that ranch dressing?"

    Often times those in need get one tiny, very random piece to the whole puzzle. They just sit and scratch their heads, because they don't even know what to do with that piece. Sometimes it just intensifies the hopelessness.

  13. My husband is part of a used car ministry providing vehicles and repair so that people can get/keep their jobs. Transportation is such an necessary part of having a job in an area without public transportation. And yet, when the car keys and Bible are handed over, the relationship ends--and it feels like closing a door on an opportunity. We've talked about the potential for so much more to come out of this ministry, but what exactly? And how? After a quick read about the Open Table, I wonder if this might be the "what" and the "how." Could it be? Shannan, we need to talk! Tell me more!

  14. Man, I loved that guy!! It all made so much sense. Your opening quote is one that stuck with me too. I think what makes many of us so hesitant to help is that we realize the futility of our band-aid handouts and don't see a way to help people truly break through the hopelessness of it all. Monday night left me seeing a glimmer!

  15. On your recommendation, I requested the "Promises I Can Keep" book from the library. Got it yesterday, and promptly ignored my messy house while I read a few chapters. WOWZA! So eye-opening and interesting. Praying for God's leading me to what part he wants little ol' me to play. Love hearing what you have to say!

  16. "they are the reward"
    I love that. I have never thought about it in that way!

  17. You show up.
    For Robert, for Becky.
    They will learn to trust you. They will say it. They will show it.
    You are teaching them by showing up.

  18. Wow~

    That's so true. Wanted to let you know I've been reading and loving your whole series. I often find that I want to comment at 2AM but typing on my droid is just too difficult. Auto correct works perhaps TOO well and the comments wouldn't really be "mine".

    The quote at the beginning reminds me of an episode of Undercover Boss that I saw maybe a year ago. It was outside of LA (I believe) and this "boss" ended up meeting a guy who used his own $$ and van to collect shoes, clothing, little packs of essentials (toothpaste, soap, etc.) and would set everything up once a week or so and the homeless in that area would come and choose what they needed. He had clothing hanging properly and interestingly enough, no one took more than they needed. It was very moving. It just reminded me that a lot of us donate and don't show up.

    I'm off on a thought...anyway..just wanted you to know that I am loving your series!



  19. Wow! I'm way intrigued, too! I think we hesitate to help because it feels like trying to fill a bottomless pit. But this doesn't. This sounds like a real solution. Love the links, too. And you.

  20. What I like about The Open Table program is they focus on one family at a time. I've learned that if you try to rescue a whole neighborhood, or even the whole street, you face impossible odds. That can be discouraging, but when I consider that the Bible says one single soul is worth more than the whole wide world, it helps change my perspective. It brings real meaning to the idea that one person can make a difference. I can't change the entire world, but I can put my all into changing somebody's world. The Open Table is a wonderful organization and proof that one-on-one relationships work.

  21. This open table concept really intrigues me too and I wonder if our church's heart would be open to it - we have so many contacts and are in the middle of a neighbourhood that none of us live in - why are we not reaching out within our neighbourhood more?! Can't wait to hear more about this journey and maybe even pursue this journey ourselves...

  22. I love this! How it makes my heart starting beating faster and my mind can't stop thinking of ways I can show up, help out, encourage...

    On another note...did someone say Spaghettios?? Love.


  23. Love the Open Table concept. Definitely something to chew on. I, too, have been struggling with how to REALLY help those who are stuck in poverty. This really could be the thing. So glad you shared this.

  24. I am so onboard with you!! I love the way you write and how you think. I don't have a blog, but follow you. Would like to know if you speak or do workshops at all. I have read and studied alot of the same books you do. I am co-director of a Women's Ministry called The PUSH and visit the female inmates in our county jail once a week. I am so anxious to talk to someone who feels the same way I do about poverty and loving our neighbor as Jesus told us. Debbie Diel

  25. I'm way behind in commenting because, well, I adopted a toddler a few months ago, and that's probably explanation enough. But, your posts have had me thinking in the free moments. Driving around our city, through our neighborhoods - we live on the edge of a subsidized housing district and our local library is right smack in the middle of it - I keep pondering these ideas you're bringing up. And I was wondering if you knew of Open Table and what you thought of it. My mom is involved a little as a mentor to a young woman with a Table so I know about it some. Glad to hear your thoughts on that too! I don't have any answers, but I'm thinking on these things with you (whilst trying to corral and love on my baby boy).