Higashi Honganji’s Downtown Women’s Center Project

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Staff of the Downtown Women’s Center.

By REV. PETER HATA

Like most of our temple members, and most of the tourists and foodies who frequent Little Tokyo, I’ve become increasingly aware of the plight of the homeless who live in the area. From the particular vantage point of Higashi Honganji at the northwest corner of Third Street and Central Avenue, we often see homeless tents lining Crocker Street stretching southward from Third Street as far as the eye can see.

However, unlike those tourists and foodies, for our members who are at temple on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, homelessness seems a bit more “in our face.”

Interestingly, some of our members recently began devoting one Sunday afternoon every month to making snack packs for the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), which gives 24/7 aid to homeless women in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Actually, the DWC’s mission isn’t just to provide much-needed food, shelter, and clothing; it’s to support their residents’ wellness and employment opportunities with the goal of ending their homelessness.

Every month, using donated funds, about a dozen or so temple members purchase the ingredients to make 100 snack packs, which consist of a sandwich, fruit, nut mix, and water. After Sunday service, we get together to make the sandwiches, assemble the snack packs, and deliver them to the Women’s Center, which is located on the corner of San Pedro and Fifth Street.

The Center itself is a clean, well-run facility, and its staff are very helpful when dropping off donations. Our members also participated in handing out the snack packs in the large main room. Although some of us might have initially had concerns about the DWC being in the heart of Skid Row, it was most heartwarming to hear the women express their gratitude for receiving their snack packs.

Of course, many Buddhist teachers speak of Buddhism as being the teaching of Oneness, and that the ultimate goal is to awaken to our interconnectedness with all life. It can be tempting to claim that our being Buddhist is responsible for our involvement with the DWC. Hopefully, that is at least partially true, but I don’t think it would be entirely accurate.

For one thing, the DWC currently has something like 5,000 people who regularly volunteer with all kinds of activities like cooking meals, sorting donations, helping in their vocational learning center, or in their retail store. I would guess that most of these volunteers find the same kind of satisfaction as our temple members do, but independently of Buddhism.

Therefore, it might be more accurate to say that, rather than our temple members helping the DWC, it’s really the DWC that is helping our members. They give us the opportunity to join together with them and their residents, and become part of something bigger than ourselves.

In this sense, they are helping the temple realize its own goal. It was the hope of the founders of Higashi Honganji that the temple be a place where we truly hear the Buddhist teaching of Oneness and move ever closer to realizing our interconnectedness with all life.

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Rev. Peter Hata is staff minister at Higashi Honganji and former resident minister of West Covina Buddhist Temple. He is also a musician and an original member of the band Hiroshima.

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