Broken and Shared: Food, Dignity, and the Poor on Los Angeles’ Skid Row

Jesus in the Bread Lines, Fritz Eichenberg, 1950

This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as [Jesus] walked.

Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John)

The author of 1 John cuts to the chase. If we claim to live in Christ, we ought to walk as he walked. It all comes down to how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. It really is about how we treat the least among us.


Inspired by Dorothy Day, Jeff Dietrich walks as Jesus walked:

Jeff Dietrich was born in Newport News, Virginia. When he was nine years old his parents moved to Southern California where he was raised and educated. After college and in order to avoid the draft, he spent six months traveling in Europe and North Africa. For the last forty years, he has lived in community at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker in solidarity with the poor. Jeff Dietrich is an activist, whose numerous actions of civil disobedience have landed him in jail more than forty times; he is a cook and a kitchen worker, whose efforts have helped provide more than three million meals to the homeless on Los Angeles’ Skid Row; and he is a writer, whose eye-witness accounts of the suffering and deprivation of the poor are imbedded in his relentless and vehement exposure of the political and social system that helps to maintain their poverty.


This brief bio is from the promo for Jeff’s new book, Broken and Shared: Food, Dignity, and the Poor on Los Angeles’ Skid Row ( ). The book can be ordered directly from this site. It is a collection of Jeff’s writings and reflections on living the Gospel by serving the poor and forgotten on Skid Row. Jeff admits that it is about living the Gospel as if it is true. This is expectant faith at its best!


Dietrich dedicates the book to his mothers—his birth mother and Dorothy Day who has inspired his efforts. Dan Berrigan, SJ highlights Dietrich’s faithfulness to the vision of Dorothy Day:

Again and again her wisdom [Day’s] rings true: “Stand with those who at the bottom of the monstrous pyramid;” “Make of every generation a first generation, first in fervor, innocence and intent;” “When all else fails, pray. When prayer fails, pray more;” “Don’t make money from money,” an entire eschatology expressed as an aphorism, “Human misery is not the will of God. There’s ample creation to heal, clothe, and educate everyone born. But there is not ample creation for every one, and for war.”

For such wisdom and gratitude, a muted alleluia. (xx)


Teresia de Vroom begins the Introduction with a poignant quote from the December 16, 2010 Stephen Colbert Report:

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we have got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it. (xxix)


Dietrich himself summarizes his life’s mission:

To be a catholic worker does not mean that we believe we can transform the poor or the domination system itself but rather that we believe we can transform ourselves. The most important thing is for us to live our lives as if the Gospels were true, calling us back to a more sustainable vision of community, simplicity, and resource. (3, emphasis added)


In a day when social conservatives have tried to capture the national agenda with their version of the Prosperity Gospel, Dietrich has a pointed message. Social conservatives are looking for every possible way to pin the blame tail on the poor donkey, “It’s their fault, they are unmotivated [Gingrich’s won’t come to work and stay all day], uneducated druggies. Hence we have a proposed unemployment bill that would strip all the remaining dignity from the poor among us. If they want benefits, they will have to be enrolled in a GED program and pass a drug test. How unlike Dietrich’s and Jesus’ compassion for the poor and their respect for the inherent human dignity of each person. Simply feeding them a nice meal and giving them time for conversation restores some lost dignity.


In the end, it is the system which is keeping people in poverty:

Our one-world, global-excess economy is designed to suck the maximum wealth from poor and working people, to say nothing of middle class people, and deposit it in the bank accounts of the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population. We do not live in a democracy, a nation of and for the people. We live in a meritocracy, a nation of and for the successful. (4)


If you don’t believe this, check out the recent reports on the wealth that has been amassed by members of Congress. Their collective chant is, “I’ve got more than my share of the pie. You just try and get yours.”


Encouraging you to go online and buy and read the book, I will close with these words from Dietrich who believes that our story and community are the tow essentials:

I believe the Gospels are the best story we have. They are the singular counter-narrative to the consumerist, war-mongering, media-saturated, technologized, dehumanized, death-oriented culture. The story of the Gospels—the triumph of goodness and mercy over the powers of death and domination—cannot be proved; and we cannot accept the story on faith alone; but we love the story so much that we want it to be true.

. . .

It is simply a love of the story and the essential recognition that “making of the story real” is the best and perhaps only hope of humanity. (8)


We ought to walk as Jesus walked. He made the promise of the story real for the dominated and impoverished crowds of his day. Jeff Dietrich inspires us to walk the talk and to live the promise of the Gospel.


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