Hope for the Homeless Population

Hope for the Homeless Population

A memorial mass for a local homeless man framed our trip to Salt Lake City the day before we left town. The homeless man, hit and killed by a car in March on a busy Central Florida road was partly identified through his pockets full of Starbucks and Panera gift cards given to him by caring people who took time to get to know him. At the memorial service, a simple urn donated by a county memory garden contained the remains of this bearded, beloved to many, homeless man.IMG_0080

Our trip took us to Denver, CO, before boarding the California Zephyr Amtrak train to Salt Lake City. Four random Denver taxi drivers, all from Ethiopia, expressed their gratefulness to be living in the United States. There is a homeless population living on the streets of Denver. The California Zephyr’s route travels through majestic, yet desolate canyons, following the Colorado River. As we left Denver, many homeless people stood along the station’s railroad tracks.

Arriving in Salt Lake City, we observed homeless people of every age on street corners, sleeping in vacant building entrances, holding signs asking for assistance. I saw the face of the local homeless man reflected in each homeless person I encountered in Denver or Salt Lake City.

Homeless people are around us from coast to coast, living under bridges, trees, in woods, on streets, carrying belongings in borrowed shopping carts or in well worn garbage bags.

The day we flew home, news reports mentioned our local officials visiting Salt Lake City to observe best practices to help their homeless population. It is too late for the man hit by a car last March but a glimmer of hope is building for others. May the area officials respond in more generous and permanent ways to help the homeless community before more lives are tragically lost.

“Have I ignored the needs of the poor, turned my back on the indigent, taken care of my own needs and fed my own face while they languished? Wasn’t my home always open to them? Weren’t they always welcome at my table?” (Job 31:16-18, The Message)

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Celebrate Summer

Going through the school’s playground late Thursday, he pushed a cart loaded with red bins covered with green lids, like bins you use to store Christmas decorations. The bins on his cart didn’t contain decorations. They were filled with food for children living in poverty.

Some students were on the playground as he pushed the cart to the bus boarding area. A young boy ran up to him, “Did I miss you Monday,” he asks? “I wanted a pastry.” The man pushing the cart tells him, “We’ll be there at 5 o’clock Monday. Don’t forget.”

On Monday, the young boy was the third child to arrive while we were unloading the car. Joseph arrived first, offering to help us set up. Then Andrew wearing Mardi Gras beads arrived carrying a smile as big as the beads around his neck. The young boy who missed the previous Monday arrived, selecting bread for his family. He took a French loaf, some sliced bread, and a cheese loaf. I suggested he take his overflowing grocery bag full of bread to his family, assuring him I would save a place in the pastry line for him. When he came back, he stood in his reserved place. When his turn came he selected a large cookie shaped like a flip flop covered with green icing that matched his shirt. He asked, “Can I take something for my mom?” I explained, “We have to make sure that everyone in line gets something. Stay in line so that you can get something else.”

At the pastry table for the second time, he selected another treat for himself and a treat for his mom. He stayed around, coming back to the pastry table a third time with crumbs on his face. He took another sweet for himself.

A young girl whose family moved from the motel to an apartment a few months earlier surprised us today. She lives closer to her school but misses her friends at the motel. She likes to ride the bus to be with her friends. Her mom picks her up at the motel a few days a week.

Summer Fun

Summer Fun

These young children remind me of the simple joys of life.

  • Offer to help others.
  • Give genuine smiles.
  • Wear Mardi Gras beads to celebrate anything.
  • Share bread and pastries.
  • Ride with friends.

The last day of school is a week from Thursday. This summer, let’s try to help others. Smile a lot, celebrate something every day, share food and stay in touch with friends.

We can learn a lot at any table filled with bread and love especially when children are around us.

Just Enough

Just Enough

Your heart melts, looking into her beautiful green eyes watching her lift each of three young friends to the table to choose a donated danish, cinnamon roll or chocolate chip cookie. She is nine years old, but acts more responsible than some adults. She steers another child to the front of the line, “She’s new. She doesn’t know what to do,” she says. Nine people are in her family. We give her a loaf of raisin bread dusted with powdered sugar to make French Toast. Walking away, she is smiling. Your heart melts a second time.

Today, there was just enough bread and pastries for everyone. A woman, a regular, was missing. We wonder where she is. Has she moved?

“You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, Common English Bible)

You are the Light

You are the Light

A green-eyed child taking care to see that other children get a sweet treat on a hot Florida evening is a light in a dark world. Her light shines in spite of the darkness of poverty around her. Just enough good things shut out darkness.

How Many Jackets Do You Wear?

How Many Jackets Do You Wear?

An eighteen year old watches us set up tables of donated bread as wind whips through the parking lot. Children’s clothing covers another table. I asked the eighteen year old if he needed a jacket. Motioning him to follow me to my car, I showed him a few men’s jackets. He selected a red fleece pullover, smiling as he took it into his hands. After receiving the pullover, I sensed he felt more at ease with us. 

Donated bread can bridge differences, equalizing deliverer and receiver. For a few minutes, we meet in Christ’s love. Helpful children place bags of bread on tables, talking to each other as they sort through clothing. Grateful to receive some bread and newer clothing, wind gusts carry their many thank you’s into the air, including the thanks of a shy eighteen year old, now with a red fleece pullover to keep him warm.

Can you spare a jacket?

Can you spare a jacket?

Do you own extra jackets? Have you considered giving one to someone who needs it more than you? When you give anything away, Christ’s love will fill your heart.  

  “He also said to them, ‘Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread  because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’  Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’  I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness.’” (Luke 11:5-8, CEB)

Like an eighteen year old young man, some people are too embarrassed to ask for help. If called upon, some people will get up in the middle of the night, maneuvering through a house full of people to help.

What if people helped the needy before they had to ask?

 

Bread for Hurting Souls

It has been a gloomy day. Rain started falling around 3pm. Our weekly Panera bread donation needed to be packaged for motel delivery. Baguettes, bagels, bread bowls and loaves were broken down, packaged in bags donated from a local Winn Dixie grocery store. The steady rain meant we would distribute donations from a motel’s front office portico. When we arrived, a few children were already waiting. “Do you have any groceries,” some asked. We did not have groceries to distribute today. One of the children we see every week shared that a young girl was celebrating her 10th birthday. We gave her four perfectly packaged chocolate cookies, wishing her a happy birthday.

“We have to go to room 128,” my husband said.

A young child asked, “What church are you from?” We respond, “God’s church. Several churches support our work.” Another usually shy child said, “Not all churches believe in God.” We talked further. He and his family leave Monday to visit his grandmother in Puerto Rico. We talked about holidays. Most always, I carry copies of The Upper Room Daily Devotional. I was led to give him the latest issue. He was pleased.

Rain became heavier. I walked to room 128. A week ago Saturday, a beloved motel maintenance man was found dead in his room. A woman shared the sad news with us the following Monday. She said that everyone was crying. People were taking it real hard, especially the children because everyone loved him. His memorial service was in Orlando this morning. Most of the people at the motel where he lived, friends and neighbors didn’t have a way to get there. The motel gave them a room to honor their friend today. They wanted us to stop by to honor his memory. Pizza was served. Soda and water were available in a blue cooler sitting outside the door. Grief was palpable.

Inside the room, a beautiful memorial of photographs of this precious soul and his pets were illuminated by several candles. His son and daughter-in-law sat on one of two beds. An open journal was placed in front of the candles and photographs honoring him.

In the rain, we carried remaining pastries, scones and cookies to room 128. People hugged us. A man shared how much he loved his friend. Another Upper Room filled one of my coat pockets. I was led to give it to a  woman who arranged the memorial to honor one who lived a big life, loved by many. Her neighbor and friend living in a tiny room impacted many people. He was honored today and this evening. May he rest in peace.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.(John 14:27, NLT)

Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed Susans

Leverage

Leverage

Arriving in a rural Georgia town, my husband announced that he forgot to bring his medication with him. We went to a pharmacy to get a small supply for the days we would be away. “You will have to call your pharmacy or your doctor for authorization,” the pharmacist informed us.

Most of our prescriptions are filled through mail-order suppliers. We didn’t have the prescription number with us. We began making phone calls. After a half hour on the telephone, we finally obtained authorization for the prescription.

A week later, we talked with a woman at a local hotel who was running into brick walls trying to assist families working through the maze of social service agencies. Her experiences ended in frustrating encounters with people she expected to be helpful.

We contacted one of the agencies she talked with, asking them to meet with the woman to address her concerns. The agency agreed to contact her. More than a month later, the woman has not heard from anyone. All she wants is to tell someone what she experienced. We contacted the agency a second time. They again agreed to talk with the woman. Another month has gone by. The woman hasn’t heard from anyone. It is frustrating. I wonder how this woman must feel. Would you feel like no one cared for your concerns if the same thing happened to you?

People living below the poverty line have no power, not by their choice or by their circumstances. Their voice isn’t often heard. People living in poverty have nothing to leverage. They are limited because of poverty.

Emmaus (Luke 24:1-35)

Emmaus
(Luke 24:1-35)

The Apostle Paul lived with a thorn in the flesh that limited him. Three different times [Paul] begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NLT)

I believe that Christ empowers us to help people living in poverty whose voices can’t be heard in the silence of indifference.

The Miserables

The Miserables

The Miserables aren’t only in a French novel written in the late 1800s.

How much more does living below the poverty line cost families already stretched to meet basic living expenses?

“I don’t get my check until 3pm. I will have to pay a $25 late fee after 11am. Can you help me?”

“I contacted the agency you recommended. They can’t see me for 2 months. They told me to save my money.”

As you see from the two statements above, there is a “tyranny of time” that adds to the numerous challenges families living in poverty face every day. Rental late fees dip into already limited family funds. An appointment more than 2 months away adds another roadblock to a family working to pull themselves out of a downward spiral created by a job loss.

Thousands of families struggle to pay monthly rent, provide food, and pay work-related transportation expenses. Many of us live in homes with well-stocked refrigerators, having money in bank accounts to pay rent or mortgages. We can afford gas for automobiles or we are able to fund public transportation fees and purchase food at favorite grocery stores while thousands of families struggle to meet basic living expenses including food.

During a performance of Les Misérables, our cell phones were off. Exiting the theater, we checked emails. A family had sent an email at 10:30pm on a Friday night. They asked for food. The head of household works two jobs. The spouse’s work hours have been cut back to one day a week. They have a 10 year old child. After paying their rent, they had $5 left over. Can you imagine a 10 year old living in a home with nothing to eat in the United States of America?

In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean was arrested and sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his hungry family. If you had no food in your home and your 10 year old child was hungry, what would you do to get food? It is 2014. Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel speaks to us today.

Might you help a family in your community? Consider donating to a local food bank, feeding the homeless or discovering other ways to help families living in poverty.

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” Matthew 25:40