disclaimer: I don’t like talking about the family’s acts of charity. I’m pretty sure Jesus meant it when He told us to practice the corporal works of mercy in such a way that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. So this post is very uncomfortable for me, but I feel led to write it.
I know so many of us struggle with how to help the homeless. I know there are as many schools of charitable thought as there are souls wrestling with the issue. Do you give money? Directly to the individual, or through an organization? Do you offer to buy a meal? Do you wonder if maybe the person’s a con artist? What if they just parlay your charity into drugs? How do you overcome the monumental awkwardness that accompanies person-to-person interactions?
I remember the first time I ever saw someone directly offer aid to a homeless person. It was in Georgia, on the outskirts of Atlanta, and there was a man standing on the median with a sign asking for help. The driver of car in front of us rolled down his window, and a I saw a bag of chips or something being offered to the homeless man. It was a revelation to me, something that honestly yanked me a little way out of my self-centered worldview. It had never ever occurred to me that you could directly help out another person without the buffer of a charitable organization between you.
From that point on, I tried to offer food whenever I ran across someone who needed it. Small sparks in the dark. Nothing profound or particularly helpful, but hopefully something that lit up the darkness a tiny amount, for a tiny amount of time. But the problem was, many times when God placed someone in my path who needed help, I didn’t have any food on me. I didn’t have anything at all that I could offer, other then direct eye contact and a hello.
Direct eye contact and a hello is the most painful thing to offer, for a variety of reasons.
Then I ran across this video on wimp.com, which is itself a small spark in the dark, and I felt like an answer to a prayer had come (think about that for a minute. Our God is so generous that He not only cares about the poor and marginalized, but He also cares enough about sheltered middle class housewives who want to help to put concrete ideas in their path).
I posted it to my Facebook wall, and lots of people got excited by the prospect. But as happens in our lives (or at least mine), good intentions often get lost in the business of every day.
Which brings me to the whole point of this post, and my violation of Matthew 6:3- I didn’t want this idea to just be a nice thought. I wanted this idea to become a reality, and it’s my hope that by sharing it with you, you’ll be motivated to make it a reality in your life, too. Then there will be lots of sparks in the dark.
Here’s our two homeless backpack kits we made up last Friday. The cost came right to $40 for the pair, except I really want to get peanut butter, which will end up driving the price slightly beyond the $20 mark in the video. However, I think that if we keep our eye out for backpacks during garage sale season, we’ll be able to lower costs. Goodwill backpacks were $6, and if Joaquin hadn’t donated one of his backpacks, we couldn’t have kept to the $20 mark.
Each pack contains the following:
backpack : $6 Goodwill/donated by Joaquin
hat: $3 Goodwill
scarf: $3 Goodwill
metal thermos: $1-$2 Goodwill
3 pairs socks, one of which was thermal: $2 total, dollar store
1 washcloth: pack of two, $1 dollar store
2 packs kleenex: pack of 8: $1, dollar store
1 cup instant oatmeal: $1 dollar store
3 cups noodle soup: $1 dollar store
2 granola bars: pack of 5, $1, dollar store
bottle of sport water: $1, dollar store
bottle of hand sanitizer: pack of 3, $1, dollar store
roll of toilet paper: pack of 4, $1, dollar store
Like I said, I still want to add a jar of peanut butter, which will up the total, but as is, everything here was $36.
We packaged up the objects in ziplock bags, because we figured it would keep them dry and the ziplock bags could be useful in other ways, too.
The two bags are now in the back of our van, and the next time our path crosses with someone who needs help, we can offer this.
We weren’t really sure what all to include, other than what was suggested in the video, but at Mass on Sunday, Father was talking about the parish youth group’s annual mission trip to Boston to go serve the homeless population there. He said that person after person said that toiletries weren’t particularly helpful (“Where am I going to take a shower?” one man asked), but socks were a prized commodity. Socks could be used as gloves on cold days, or a vessel to carry possessions, or a number of other uses. So we made sure to include socks.
I took six small kids with me to Goodwill and the Dollar Tree, and in the space of an hour, we had everything we needed. Not a lot of time, not a huge amount of money. If I can do it, it’s got to be stupid easy.
$40, one hour, and you’ll have something with you that will allow you to be God’s hands and feet in this world, lighting small sparks.