I had the opportunity this week to volunteer with a rotating shelter. Every year, our church hosts those without a home. They are given a place to stay, showers, hygiene kits, three meals a day and snacks, entertainment, and clothing….all things money can buy.
Obviously, food and shelter is critical, especially during Michigan winters. And providing for those without basic needs is important. But do you know want to know what meant the most to the guests? Kindness.
Playing a game of Scrabble with someone. Sharing a meal and conversation. Preparing a snack together.
I planned for the week by working with others to plan snacks, and coordinated what to serve on which day. But as I put the mechanics behind me and opened my heart, I realized more of me was needed. What was needed was my time. A warm smile. Friendly conversation. The time to get to know someone.
I befriended a young woman named Jane.* We started talking one night while making a snack together. She knew how she ended up in her current situation, and yet she didn’t. Meaning, she knew a bunch of bad decisions led her here but she didn’t know how she let it happen. She has a teenage son whom she hasn’t seen in a year as he lives with his father in another state.
She is a mom. Just like me.
The next night my sons and I had dinner with her. She took a liking to my youngest with Down syndrome. He gave her lots of flirtatious smiles….and that is something when he’s in a large group.
We spoke again the next night. I told her how I thought of her in the morning and prayed she might feel some comfort today. She told me she could use all the prayers I could give. I promised to pray for her daily. After more talk and laughs, she headed to her room and I gave her a hug goodbye, not knowing if I would ever see her again.
Some of the stories you hear are bad decision upon bad decision. Others had a few great losses and found themselves in a situation they never dreamed of.
Regardless of how it happened, these are people. People who deserve a smile when we pass them on the street. People who need more than just a shelter to keep warm or stay cool. People who need more than just the basic necessities of life. They need to be helped in a way that gives them the confidence to help themselves. The saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is so true. It must be hard to pull yourself up by the boot straps when you feel as if you have no straps to pull. I don’t know how to solve this situation. But I do know this. I can say hello or give a smile. And I know that it won’t be another year before I go to a shelter or soup kitchen and help, and talk with people who are disadvantaged to let them know people do care, in a meaningful way.