“Roger, you HAVE to go to the hospital, TONIGHT, NOW! I can drive you, but you have to go.“ I stumbled onto this conversation on the back porch of our Second Ave boarding house in mid-April. Mike S., with back up from Howard, was urging Roger to go to the hospital as he had complained of copious amounts of blood in his stools and urine. I too supported Mike’s insistence and offered to drive as I was leaving shortly to pick up Jennifer who was visiting her husband, Mike D., at San Mateo County Hospital (more on that later). Roger relented without much of a fight as even he realized the seriousness of his situation.
I often categorize the people who live at our Second Ave boarding house in San Bruno as a bunch of grumpy old men who generally mind their own affairs and only interact on the smoking porch. As in most stereotypes this contains a kernel of truth, but not the whole truth. The residents of the house do care for each other and do what they can to ensure the well being of each other.
When I returned from the hospital I complemented Mike on his concern for Roger’s well being. I’ve known for a while that Mike helps Roger, but I didn’t realize how much. Roger is elderly, overweight, and has difficulty walking, particularly going up and down stairs, due to bad knees. So Mike does his laundry; makes minor food and cigarette runs to the convenience store; and, most impressively, changes the bandages on Roger’s legs (he has cracking and bleeding on his legs due to severe edema). Without Mike’s assistance Roger would have a much lower quality of living and would likely be in some sort of assisted living facility.
But Roger is not always on the receiving end of acts of kindness. Having a car, he often plays chauffeur for some of the other residents for weekly trips to the grocery store. He regularly tells housemates to leave their dirty dishes in the sink, as washing dishes is his way of helping out. Roger is not alone in his acts of kindness. Howard, besides working at the shelter one night a week, is available for electrical repairs, and with assistance from Martha, always makes sure that the shelter laundry gets done in a timely fashion. Then there’s Mike D., Jennifer, and Fletcher who welcome and accept donations that are delivered to the house. All this is done in addition to the household chores everyone does to keep the house clean and orderly.
Fifteen years ago when we started using the Second Avenue house for permanent housing my hope was to provide supportive affordable housing for some of our shelter guests, particularly for those who would have the hardest time renting a place normally. At the time I thought that I would be the one supporting the residents. But overtime I have seen the residents be the ones supporting not only each other, but our work at the Catholic Worker Hospitality House as well.
Really, what I’m talking about here is mutual aid. In the United States we all too often subscribe to the belief of the rugged individualist, whose successes or failures are theirs alone. In my experience, this is total bunk. We need others and whether we accept it or not, we are all part of a web of support that makes our successes and quality of life possible. “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” From personal experience when I play the “rugged individualist,” or should I say the “isolationist,” I’m neither happy nor healthy. When I help others, when I rely upon others, and when I work with others for a common good is exactly when I, and those I interact with, are happier, healthier, and better off.
As always we thank you for your ongoing support that makes our work possible. It is through such generosity (or shall we say, mutual aid) that we are able to continue feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and comforting the afflicted. We hope that you will continue helping us help others.
In Christ’s Peace,
For all of us at
Catholic Worker Hospitality House
Mike DiCampli Health Update:
Many of y’all know Mike DiCampli from his work at the dining room on Friday mornings or from his greeting you when dropping off donations at our Second Ave house. Well, we almost lost Mike to diverticulitis in April. After feeling terrible for several days his wife Jennifer insisted he go to County Hospital. Doctors quickly diagnosed him with diverticulitis and began pumping him with antibiotics. An emergency surgery removed a grapefruit sized “puss ball” that, if it had burst, would have led to sepsis and killed him. To state the obvious, we are all glad that didn’t happen. Mike is still weak and recovering from his surgery, but getting better everyday. In a month or so he will have another surgery to remove the section of intestine damaged by diverticulitis and infection. Please keep Mike in your thoughts and prayers.