For some San Luis Obispo college students, Thursday nights are spent downtown at Farmers’ market shopping for fresh vegetables and participating in Bike Night. But for the members of Finer Things Thursday, a group of Cuesta and Cal Poly students who get together to feed the homeless, Thursday nights mean potluck dinners with friends at Mitchell Park.
Finer Things Thursday got its start last year when political science junior Colby Carter wanted to take her friend’s weekly potluck dinners outside, to people who would really appreciate a warm meal. Carter said a goal of Finer Things Thursday is to bring together groups of people who may not otherwise interact and to blur the lines that separate homeless people from the rest of society.
“Finer Things wants to eliminate the division between us and them,” Carter said. “I don’t like seeing myself or my group of people, and then everybody else.”
Every week a different theme is chosen and approximately 5 to 15 students bring food to eat while they share stories and talk like lifelong friends to any homeless person who shows up for a warm meal and friendly conversation. Animal science sophomore Megan Sexton said the group’s decision to have a potluck dinner where the students sit and talk with the homeless is what separates them from other organizations such as the Salvation Army or the Prado Day homeless shelter.
“I think we have more of a relational sit-down dinner where we can get to know them,” Sexton said. “Actually talking to them and getting to know their stories and stuff is different than if we were just handing out food.”
Even though the students are the ones doing the giving, they feel that they are on the receiving-end as well. When communications freshman Adrienne McIntyre began participating this year, she was doing it largely based on her faith and because she wanted to be able to help out the homeless population in a way she wouldn’t be able to from the comforts of home. As the year continued, she began making friends with the homeless people who regularly attend the potluck and learned about their lives.
One man McIntyre met was a college graduate who grew up in a rich family. After graduation, the man decided the best way to help battle homelessness was to become homeless himself for almost 10 years. His stories of hitchhiking across America and choosing to be homeless helped shatter her previous conception that all homeless people are dangerous and crazy.
“I feel like I’m seeing what’s really important in life. It’s not the things that I have but that there’s so much more. The way they see life, they have so much hope but they have nothing,” McIntyre said. “They have so much to say and are so grateful and their stories are so interesting and I feel like people don’t view them as fully human.”
Even though the few homeless people who attended the potluck declined to speak, Carter wants them to feel comfortable and like the two groups are friends when they show up on Thursday nights. She said this is a big reason why they sit down to eat dinner and why she wanted to get out there and form relationships with the group she serves.
“Meal sharing is a very intimate thing but it’s also a very welcoming thing,” Carter said. “They’re my friends, I’m not going to be wearing plastic gloves and a hairnet when I’m serving these people. We want to blur those lines as much as possible. So I think sitting down and doing that, eating dinner with somebody does that. It eliminates the ‘this is my place in society and I’m going to serve you and help you because you need it’ but I need help just as much as they do, like I need help just as much as the next homeless person does.”