For years I felt a tug on my heart for those living on the streets. I often tried to imagine how they ended up homeless and how tough it must be to survive. I was especially burdened for the youth walking the streets aimlessly. The harsh elements, the gnawing pain of hunger, the illness from a night spent in the rain, and the threat of physical violence are unthinkable to me. I wondered about their outlook; do they possess any hope for the future, or are they drowning in perpectual despair? Do they feel a sense of pride for their resilience and endurance, or are they ashamed of their status? As I mulled over these questions, I wrestled with a feeling of helplessness.
A few years ago, my perception of the homeless changed dramatically. My husband and I received a bounty of food gifts for Christmas. We were a bit overwhelmed by the mounting boxes of chocolates, cookies, jams, cheeses, and other goodies sent our way. I could not stand the idea of throwing away food simply because I knew we would never consume it. I set out on a mission to find a food bank that would welcome the edible donations.
I was surprised to discover only a few blocks from our home was a food bank that services the homeless and low-income families in our area. I was thrilled to find a destination for our trunk full of goodies. But I was even more excited to learn about this center and its role in our community.
I dropped the food off and was given many warm thanks in return. It should have felt good to provide a little blessing to those less fortunate, but I this wasn't my experience as I drove away from the center. The concern I had felt for the homeless was turning into a burden that I couldn't shake. I knew I had to do more than just take unwanted food gifts to this food bank. I knew I had to get involved. I signed up as a volunteer. I was nervous, not knowing what to expect. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I was assigned to help in the kitchen. My role was to bag up groceries and hand them out to the people as they came in for food. Sometimes it was simply a bag lunch for a hungry teen. Other times, it was a shopping cart full of all the basic necessities to feed a family.
My first morning as a volunteer, my stomach was churning and my hands were shaking. Would I be able te relate to these people? Would I say and do the right thing? Would I feel uncomfortable or scared around them? I will never forget that first morning. The politeness and gratitude on every face was humbling. I expected to see hardness, pain, frustration, anger, and hostility. Instead, I saw gentle spirits graciously receiving whatever was given them with deep gratitude.
The months that I volunteered at the food bank, I came to realize that there really isn't much difference between them and me. A few months without any income and we could be filling their shoes. I began to really appreciate all that we have. Our little bungalow home is small and cozy, and I am grateful for every square inch of it. I am so thankful for a warm bed to climb into and kitchen cupboards overflowing with food. I am grateful for a closet full of clothes, and a car that runs. My yard, though small, is a peaceful retreat that I see through new eyes of gratitude.
But this isn't about me and how good I have it. It's about seeing a need in another human being and doing my part. And I am not tooting my own horn here. What I have done is SO LITTLE in comparison to what I could be doing. This is a challenge to myself to keep my eyes and heart open wide for opportunities to serve. I cannot help but wonder what the world would be like if all of us were to step forward and do our share. It begins with me.
"I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me...
Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked and ignored, that was me ~ you did it for me." Matthew 25, The Message