Harper has decided to run for student council this year, and one of the requirements for running is to participate in some form of community service for two hours. On Saturday, the four of us went downtown to stand on the street and help hand out food and water to the homeless. (A friend of ours is involved in a foundation that provides meals and clothing to the homeless every month.)
Over 100 homeless people went through our line. Every single one of them was grateful and kind and every single one of them broke my heart—and that wasn’t their intention, it’s just that my heart is easily broken.
One man (I’ll call him Smiley) returned to Meredith and me after he went through the food line.
Smiley: Let me guess. She’s your daughter.
Me: She is! How did you know?
Smiley: Because she looks just like you, except her hair is longer. Do you think she’s smarter than a fifth grader?
Me: I sure hope so, because she’s in the seventh grade!
Smiley: She looks brainy, but I bet I can outsmile her.
Smiley then stood there with the biggest smile on his face until Meredith busted out laughing. He then turned and walked away carrying everything he owns in a dirty duffel bag.
As the line wound down and it was almost time to go, Meredith noticed that she had only three drink packets left, and they were all raspberry lemonade flavored.
Meredith: Will you come with me for a second?
Me: Sure, where are we going?
Meredith: That guy sitting on the sidewalk over there told me that raspberry lemonade is his favorite. I’m going to give him the last three.
All of this to say: Our family had no idea what to expect when we drove downtown to help out on Saturday, and as clichéd as it sounds, we were a different family as we drove back home.
Meredith: After working there this afternoon, I almost feel silly complaining about my Windows 10 update not working.
We’ll be back.
(Current thoughts scrambling in my head: Homeless shelters are good, right? Right. BUT, what if a homeless shelter is full of bed bugs and feeds their residents only three bologna sandwiches each day? And what if the bread is moldy on those sandwiches, and the residents are told to just rip off the moldy parts? And what if that same homeless shelter tells its residents that if they accept food from us, they are no longer welcome to stay in the shelter? Despite what many people believe, not all homeless people are addicts who just need to get off the stoop and get a job. It’s too easy to sit back in an air-conditioned house and think that. Or to think nothing at all past the fact that Windows 10 can really suck sometimes or how crappy it is that a football game in overtime might make The Amazing Race run late.)
8 thoughts on ““I don’t like to take more than I need.””
So complicated (Have you read “Million Dollar Murray” by Malcolm Gladwell? It is a longish article about out of the box solutions to the homeless issue. It is interesting and worthwhile – much like the pudding family.)
It warms my heart to know that you are teaching your girls about life and love and kindness in so many ways. Meredith and Harper are two of the richest girls in the world — I’m glad they are realizing it. Thank you.
Preach, my twin soul. Preach.
I’ve read your blog forever, but this compelled me to comment. I don’t know what is good or better about any service or help, all I know is that I’m so grateful my mother, like you are doing with your daughters, taught me that there is more to religion and church than Sunday Mass. She always spoke to social justice, and she lived it. We would wake up once a month at 5 am and go make lunch for a local shelter and then prepare and serve breakfast.(that happens after you make lunch) But we never left off there. We would serve and my mother would encourage us to talk to the residents and learn their stories. She emphasized to me and my siblings that they were real people, with real stories, and they deserved respect, love, and attention.
I shot and wrote a book about this when I was in art school.
My job 15 years later is still to make up stories and shoot them, and I’ll never forget that project.
The fact that Meredith remembered that raspberry lemonade was the favorite drink of that particular person says to me that she was paying attention, which is such a beautiful thing.
We have a questionable shelter like that here in Atlanta. Even the homeless people don’t like going there. People steal their things. They had a TB outbreak last year. And drug dealers have the run of the place. For most homeless it’s a last resort on the coldest nights.
How do you tell someone not to accept help?
And how can you withhold help because they did?
What reason was given for this policy?
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