A Compelling Advocate
Wesley was our guest speaker at one of our Fall Luncheon Fundraisers. His speech was poignant, honest and compelling. It was not easy for him to get up in front of a large group and speak from the heart, but he did an admirable job. Wesley suffers from claustrophobia and panic attacks. Earlier in the day it looked like he may indeed not make it to the podium, but he was resolute he wouldn't let himself off the hook. "Don't give me an out", he said, "I really want to do this". And he did. The room was quiet as he told a bit of his story, and when guests told him they had tears in their eyes while he spoke, he softly apologized.
Wesley's speech is here for those of you who were unable to make the Luncheon, as well as those of you who were there, and want to experience it again.
When I was asked if I would like to speak today, I said “yes” right away. I said yes, because in a lot of ways, Oak Table has helped me. Over the years, I’ve depended on Oak Table as a place I could go without worry for my safety. It’s a place where people welcome me by name when I walk through the door. It’s a place people know me and know my story. It’s a place I can meet my friends and catch up with them.
I was one of the kids who were affected by what is now known as the 60's scoop. That was the practice of taking kids away from their indigenous families and adopting them out to non-aboriginal families. In my case I was removed from my family at the age of one and eventually adopted by a family in New Jersey where I suffered abuse and I was cut off from my people, my culture and my biological family. I ended up running away.
Like a lot of the "scoop kids" my family life was disrupted over and over. I didn’t get a good education and I didn’t learn my language or traditions. I’ve had my brushes with substance abuse and the legal system.
I have been coming to Oak Table for about eleven years. It was just after my wife died and I was not in a very good place. I was angry at the world and everyone in it. The volunteers at Oak Table introduced me to journaling. They suggested I write down my frustrations and my emotions in a journal to help me deal with them. I think it really helped and it is something I still do after all these years. I still get my journals from Oak Table.
Since that time I have been a regular at Oak Table. I started attending when it took place in the small room at the front of the church and was a place for coffee and a place to talk. We’ve moved a couple of times since then, but it’s still a safe place for me.
I try and come every day. I volunteer in the community a couple of days a week, but I still try to get to Oak Table. Some days I make it just minutes before the kitchen closes but I still try and make it.
You probably saw my limp when I walked up here. I live in constant pain. Some days are so bad, I’d do almost anything to get rid of it. I need to get around on foot or on a bike, but when it gets really cold I’m going to need to take the bus. Taking the bus is a real challenge for me. I hate the bus because I suffer from claustrophobia and anxiety. One really cold day I had a panic attack and just had to get off the bus. It was so cold I knew I would freeze if I didn’t get back on, but it was hard to do. I try and talk myself into being calm. My psychiatrist told me to just close my eyes when I’m on the bus, but it can be a big shock to open my eyes and find the bus is packed.
One of the reasons Oak Table is important to me is because it is a place to eat a healthy meal. Because I am waiting for a knee replacement I have to really watch that I eat healthy because extra weight or a poor diet makes my knee worse. On the $3.96 I get for food each day, I couldn’t eat properly without Oak Table. Eating there means I have more money to contribute to my family, with things like food or money for the laundry card.
Right now I’m couch surfing, moving around between my extended family. I’ve recently lost two places to live. One, because there was a fire in the building and everyone living there needed to find a new place to live. I lost my second home because the rent just kept going up and up. I just couldn’t afford it anymore.
Oak Table isn’t just a warm place to get a hot meal, it is a place to, connect with other people. It’s a place to meet friends and to make friends. It’s a place we can get a haircut, read the newspaper, use the computers or the phone. Life is hard when you don’t have a phone. Sometimes I wait on hold so long I don’t get through before its time to go home.
Volunteers and staff at Oak Table work hard to make occasions special. Sometimes we will walk in and the place is decorated and there is a special meal and sometimes entertainment. Last Christmas everyone was given gift cards and we could choose what we wanted to spend them on. Socks are needed, but those gift cards were great.
At Oak Table there aren’t any questions to answer. If someone needs socks or underwear, or things like shampoo, razors, lotion, or toothpaste, or even a bus ticket, you can have it, if they have it. If they have extra food like salad or bread or other vegetables, they put it on the giveaway table and we can take what we need. Most of us are pretty good about not taking more than we need, but it is sure nice to know it’s there if you need it. I have really sensitive skin, and can always find a bar of soap, shampoo, and moisturizer that I’m not allergic to.
I’m just one person who depends on Oak Table. More and more people do. So, for me and for them, thank you for supporting Oak Table. Oak Table is an important part of my life and it’s important to many others. No matter how many of us show up, there is always food for all. There are always people to talk to. We need the Oak Table. Please keep supporting the work they do.
You heard I had a rough start in life. I suffered abuse. I am an addict. I got on the wrong side of the law. It’s places like Oak Table that help me and others like me leave that life behind. It’s a place where you aren’t judged. I am not a number at Oak Table. I am Wesley. They know me and they know my story and I’m part of the Oak Table Community.
Wesley Daniel Benn
Wesley passed away on February 8th, 2020 after a long struggle. We miss Wesley. He was a part of the Oak Table Family R.I.P.