Before it was demolished last week, the Canton Inn was universally regarded as an eyesore, a byword, and a symbol of the decline of what was once a solid, working-class neighborhood.
For decades, it housed the most desperate among us; people who, either by circumstance or choice, lived in what used to be an affordable hotel that accommodated tourists visiting the city for the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities.
In the flight to the suburbs, the hotel lost business, eventually becoming a magnet for the least among us. Yes, it housed some criminals and addicts. There also were people who were just poor. They included elderly women all alone in the world, scraping by. Young couples with kids. Former felons with nowhere else to go.
While the rest of us locked our car doors, tsk-tsked, and swept past the wounded on the side of the road, the Rev. Don Ackerman, senior pastor of Crossroads United Methodist Church, was one of the few who stopped and got out.
More neighborhood news:'People are suffering:' Ministry focuses on Canton's 'Newton Zone' neighborhood
Christians these days don't have the greatest reputation, much of it self-inflicted thanks to situational righteousness, imagined persecution, and a willingness to compromise beliefs in exchange for photo ops and a seat at the king's table.
This is unfortunate because authentic expressions of the faith are being overshadowed and drowned out by a noisy culture fueled by cynicism and the outrage de jour. We're told we should be more angry over a phony War on Christmas instead of the fact that there are people among us who are ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-fed.
Ackerman regularly ministered at the Canton Inn, and came to know many of the residents by name.
It means something when someone actually sees you, and knows a little bit about your story.
He formed Canton For All People, a nonprofit which is working on replacing aging and dilapidated housing stock in the neighborhood, with affordable housing.
The property where the Canton Inn stood is slated for new development.
For years, the Rev. Chet Harris, then-pastor of Dueber United Methodist Church and his members conducted weekly giveaways of food, water and clothing at the rear of the Canton Inn.
Helping Canton:Dueber UMC goes into 'The Zone'
You haven't had your heart broken until you've seen a 7-year-old happy just to receive some new hand-me-downs and a free hotdog.
Like Ackerman, the volunteers from Dueber UMC knew many of the people they served on a first-name basis, from proud young mothers pushing baby carriages, to the police officers assigned to patrol the area known as "The Newton Zone," to the prostitutes working the adjoining streets.
Street ministry is not a Hallmark movie. It requires that you swallow your fears, assumptions and prejudices.
It can be thankless, frustrating, even a little scary. It requires a humility which seems harder to find in this Age of the Selfie.
Not everyone is called to do it. But all of us are called to support it.
The men and women who called the Canton Inn home still live among us. They still need assistance and encouragement and the kind of compassion found in the efforts of people who don't always get the credit they probably deserve but don't care if they get it.
They embody the words of St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel. Use words only as last resort.
Their reward is the lives changed and made better by their faith.
Help for refugees
The Stark County Refugee Coalition is producing native-language fliers to assist refugees who have relocated to the area. The fliers are being printed in Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian and Spanish.
The group formed last year under the leadership of Rita Schaner, a member of Temple Israel, in partnership with US Together, an national refugee outreach based in Cleveland.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, nearly 90 million people around the world were displaced in 2021 as a result of war, famine, natural disaster, human rights violations, and political or religious persecution.
The contact number for the Stark County Refugee Support Coalition is 330-353-9873. This is a Google number that will allow the organizers to collect the messages and relevant contact information. Within 24 hours, each call will be answered by a member of the local coalition who has been trained by the US Together to respond appropriately to the requests.
Charita M. Goshay is a Canton Repository staff writer and member of the editorial board. Reach her at 330-580-8313 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Charita Goshay: Canton Inn was home for some, a mission for others