Minister Lisa Barton works for DC Water and serves with Matthews Memorial Baptist Church through the Pay It Forward Ministry. She arrived at Franklin Park on Saturday afternoon sporting a carload of supplies and the most welcoming smile possible.
"I used to give money. I was all about supporting the homeless and helping the needy," she said, when we approached her and asked about her volunteering. "I'm giving all this money and I thought, isn't that enough? I'm too busy to be out there, giving time, too." She laughed at herself, shaking her head.
Around us, a team of friends from the church and ministry worked to set up tables and bring out hot cups of homemade soup, water, toiletry bags, and clothes. Watching them work, she tells us "Oh, you have to make sure you talk to Tyra. And here, hey!" she calls out to another woman, beckoning her over, "You should get a picture of her," Minister Lisa tells us, the pride in her team evident.
We all smile, snap pictures together, and then Minister Lisa steps back with us and continues to chat while the others return to the tables, where a line has formed and steam rises from the soup.
"I was saying," she mulls, running back over our conversation in her mind. "I thought that was enough, just giving money. But after I came out, I realised it was about more than just money. It's connecting. Just talking, hearing stories." She gestures around her at all the people sharing the park with us, talking with one another, resting, eating. "Helping someone in person, actually meeting them--not just sending money off somewhere and feeling like you've done something; it's different."
"So you come out with the Pay It Forward group regularly now?"
"We go out every third Saturday. At 9 a.m. a group of us, we get together and start prepping. Takes us til about noon and then we load up and come out."
She leans forward and drops her voice. "I tried once prepping the night before, but that didn't work so well. Two days, and everyone's tired after a long work week." She laughs. "But this, it's part of my life now."
"Minister Lisa, what has been one of the things you've learnt in your experiences here?"
Minister Lisa quiets for a moment, thinking, then tells us decisively, "Be kind to people. They are people. I think you should at least smile, say something nice. It's not always about money for people experiencing homelessness. You might be surprised. I was surprised."
"Us coming out here, taking a day once in a while? It's a blessing to us and our church to be able to do this. And all we really are doing is just being here for a little while, talking and hanging out."
Guest Writer: Heather Hill
Heather Hill is the Assistant Manager of donor acquisition & digital fundraising at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She is a graduate of Houghton College, and Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the Human Rights Co-Chair of the United Nations Association of the National Capitol Area, and you can find her performance reviews on MD Theatre Guide.