Giving back and helping others is something I grew up doing. There are so many charitable causes out there and so many people and groups who can use a helping hand. Many times, all you have to have is a big heart to help them.
I vividly remember 8th grade where I had to log 100 hours of community service over the course of the school year to graduate. I could volunteer anywhere I wanted as long as it was approved by the school. I chose to volunteer at a convalescent hospital. I don’t recall why I chose that project but I do recall feeling awful for the elderly people who had sort of been abandoned by their families or simply didn’t have any family. You don’t know what “lonely” is until you find yourself living in a medical institution where you have permitted social hours and are otherwise constrained to a room with a hospital bed.
I will admit that I was uncomfortable at first. A lot of the residents had mental illnesses. Some of them wouldn’t remember my name from week to week. Some thought I was their daughter. Some came out of their bathrooms without their pants on. I was a teenage girl and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure how to process all of that. What I did know was that no matter what oddities I experienced, I would always leave knowing that I made someone’s day who no one else really took the time to care about. Need I go on to tell you that that’s an awesome feeling? Probably not.
In high school, my mother decided that we should volunteer to prepare dinner for a homeless shelter whenever we could. Sometimes it was her, my sister and I. Sometimes friends helped. It was a small shelter that only took about 60 people a night. My mom and I would cook our butts off (with the help of my baby sister) and deliver a warm meal to a shelter of men, women and children to what was really just a building with cots to sleep on and tables to set the food on.
I will admit that I was uncomfortable at first. I felt guilty. Who was I to waltz in there with enough food to feed 60 people to people who had nothing? Were people going to treat us strangely? Were we going to make them feel bad?
The first time we served the homeless a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs was one that I will never forget. I was so nervous that I barely spoke at first. I just didn’t know how to interact because I felt so fortunate to have a roof over my head. I wasn’t living a lavish life but I had a single mother who busted her a-word and was fortunate and good enough at it to take care of my sister and I. That’s more than so many people could ever wish to ask for.
The night progressed. I served some plates. Shared some smiles. Felt terrible that these beautiful souls found themselves suffering in the place they were. Without a home. Without a family able to bust their a-words to help them. Some of these people didn’t even have family. Some of them had been laid off from their job and living paycheck to paycheck was no longer an option. One of them went to my high school and played on the varsity basketball team.
I saw his face come through the line and I didn’t know whether he wanted me to recognize him or not. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I sort of froze. I racked my brain. Do I act normal. Do I keep my head down. I wasn’t friends with the guy but he recognized my face and I his. I rashly decided that I was going to treat this as a normal interaction to ease the tension. I acted like I knew him. Made small talk. Made him feel large talk. It was the right decision. He looked nervous- like I might tell people at school. I never did. I don’t even think anyone knew I was volunteering there? I didn’t exactly have many friends in high school but that’s another subject. He will probably never know it but his energy and resilience inspired me in more ways than I can describe.
Once everyone was served I decided to talk to some other people. Socialize. Treat them like normal humans. So many people forget to do that. I learned that some had lost their jobs. Some lost everything in a bad divorce. Some couldn’t find work for months. Some had been disowned and were struggling to find their way. Some didn’t have a single family member or friend in the world. Some didn’t want to talk they just wanted to eat and sleep. The ridiculously outstanding revelation was this- they were all people just like you and me. They were all so appreciative that we bothered to bring them a meal. And care. Because no one else cared enough to help them.
I will never forget my experience there. I will never forget the lessons I learned. I will never forget that there are millions of homeless people struggling in our nation.
The thing is- it’s so easy to give time, money, and any charitable energy to a cause that hits close to home. Disease hits close to home, cancer hits close to home, animals hit close to home. All more than worthy causes. Most of us have relative or animal friends who have suffered a cruel injustice but most of us will never experience what it’s like to not know if you have a safe place to sleep at night. Many of us will never even consider that anyone could become homeless at any given moment. It’s an issue that lacks awareness and I really hope to assist with changing that.
Long story long, I am thrilled to finally have a few things in line to help the homeless in our community and I might ask that you will join me every now and then.
The only resource you need to help others is a big heart, an open mind and a little spare time.
Thanks for hearing me out.
p.s. Google your local homeless shelter. A $10 investment of a loaf of bread, some peanut butter and jelly may go a long way. A $0 investment of donating a coat or blanket you don’t need will likely make someone’s day as well.