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Letter: Finding empathy in tenting

letter to the editor

Dear Editors,

We at Open Table Ministry read Sannon Saleh’s column, “Stop Making Jokes about Homelessness in K-Ville” with interest. Disturbed by what he sees as privilege and insensitivity toward homelessness, Saleh asked his fellow students to approach the tradition of roughing it in K-Ville with awareness and humility. 

Open Table Ministry, originally founded by a group of Duke Divinity students, is a Durham nonprofit that helps individuals experiencing homelessness with clothing, meals and assistance gaining housing. We see firsthand the difficulties that our neighbors experiencing homelessness face.

Like Mr. Saleh, we are concerned about our neighbors and we work hard to improve their lives. As Duke alums, however, we believe that camping out actually can be a useful exercise in empathy. Sleeping outdoors in the cold winter months can indeed open one’s eyes to the plight of those who do it not for fun and camaraderie, but because they have no other choice.

If you’ve been a resident of K-Ville, you have a better idea than most how valuable a good tent and sleeping bag can be. So here’s a thought—how about after the last tent is collapsed and the last sleeping bag washed, instead of storing them or throwing them away, you donate them to us? 

How about volunteering with us, meeting and developing trusting relationships with some of our unsheltered neighbors? Or running a drive in your dorm—collecting extra backpacks, blankets, or sneakers? Last year we gave away 57 tents, 414 winter coats, 909 pairs of sneakers and much more. Help us keep these valuable items in stock! 

Perhaps some of that Cameron Crazy energy can be harnessed to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable and overlooked members of our shared community.

Let’s go Duke!

Jennifer Mario, Class of ‘92, is the Board Chair of Open Table Ministry. Carolyn Schuldt, Duke Divinity School ‘09, is the Executive Director of Open Table Ministry. 

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