We spent Christmas Eve morning working on our family gift today. Last year, we decided to give to Heifer International (and you all did too! thank you!), which really opened our eyes to the power of empowering those in need on a global scale. This year, we decided to take our family gift down to the local level and do more than just writing a check.
We got the idea from our church and have been mulling it over in our heads for a few weeks now. "Can we do this?" "How do we do this?" "Is this us?" We found the answers this weekend as we prepared and bought supplies for our morning project.
The project was to make gift bags for the homeless and go out and share them. We always feel terrible about just tossing a few coins to a homeless person because that doesn't seem like the best way to help. But this idea sounded good. The bags contained:
• a water bottle
• some applesauce and a spoon
• a box of raisins
• a granola bar
• a fresh, clean, warm pair of socks
• a bus card loaded with about 7 rides
• a candy cane filled with M&M's (because these were a staple of my childhood Christmas stockings!)
• and a resource list of places to go for help, including all different types of crisis lines and homeless shelters
This seemed better than those few coins that we could have shared because it may help to address some of the immediate problems that the person may be facing, thereby empowering them to do something more to help themselves.
Is it a bit grandiose of us to think that a measly bag of treats can help to save the world? Or at least help to save some of the people in our city? Perhaps. We don't know. But the idea sounded good to us, so we tried it.
We were only able to make six bags. So we went out looking for six folks who could use some help this morning. This was a major wake-up call for us. We realized that we are so accustomed to walking by homeless folks with signs seeking help that they simply blended in to the cityscape. I walked right past a veteran with a sign even though Dan thought I saw him. No, I told him. I was looking back at my son who was enjoying his walk through the city immensely. So we went back to the man and offered our gift. He seemed surprised and graciously accepted. One down, five to go.
It was a cold, cold morning in Minneapolis today, so we didn't exactly know where to look. We hoped we'd find some folks out on the streets waiting for our generosity to be bestowed upon them (see how nervous we felt about some of this activity?) but we also hoped that we'd find NO ONE. With the mercury just barely above 10 degrees Fahrenheit, it was too cold for anyone to have to be outside, without a place to go.
We did find another man on our downtown walk. A young guy. That hit home for a us since he couldn't have been that much younger than ourselves. How did our life circumstances differ so vastly that he ended up on the street and we have a nice, warm home? He accepted our gift and smiled. Two down, four to go.
We then got in the car and drove around to other areas where we thought we might find some homeless folks in need of some help. Dan remembered a specific man who always shakes a cup at a certain corner, so we went there. He was there. I hopped out of the car and told him that we had some treats for him. He was very surprised, but smiled and said "Merry Christmas!" I smiled back and said "Merry Christmas to you! Take care!"
That left us with three down, three to go. But it was getting close to lunchtime and Jackson needed to go home. I've never felt so lucky to have a home with food waiting for me to go home to, and I felt a bit bad since I knew we could find a few more people with which we could share our bags. But we'll try again. Unfortunately, there will still be homeless people out in the cold tomorrow. And the next day.
It's hard to know if we will make a difference with this small act. But I kept thinking of a story that I read somewhere about some turtles in Florida. I don't remember the details, but it goes something like this:
The turtles go inland to hatch their eggs. But the babies get confused and can't get back to the sea because they are drawn to the inland lights of the city behind them instead of the natural light coming from the water. A man was walking up and down the beach, tossing the turtles back into the ocean, one by one while another person asked if that would really make any difference since the problem was so vast - there were literally hundreds of turtles all over the beach. The man replied after helping one more turtle back into the water, "Well, it made a difference to that turtle."
Merry Christmas, everyone. May we all remember to not overlook the turtles and help out in small ways, whenever we can.