(Jesus the Homeless, by Timothy Schmalz)
Last Saturday morning found Maya and me (and her friend) in San Francisco, handing out meals to homeless people. We had done this once before, when she was in 7th or 8th grade. In that instance, it was for a class, Teens Around the World, in which they learned about kids in other cultures. A group of 10 or 15 kids, the teacher, and several parents went into the city and handed out bag lunches, which the student had assembled the day before in class. It was kind of an amazing experience, and I think it helped Maya to overcome her fear of homeless people.
Back when she was 5 or so, we were in the city for the day, and walking around Union Square. There was a very angry, confused, smelly, and LOUD homeless man, who was yelling profanities at people as they passed by. He was scary. From then on, Maya said she didn’t like San Francisco and didn’t want to go into the city. As time went on, she amended that to say she didn’t like downtown, but the park and some of the outer neighborhoods were OK. Finally, as she got older and had more good experiences in the city, she finally overcame her dislike of downtown, though it took engagement and interaction with homeless people in 7th grade to cure her of her fear. It helped her to humanize them and realize that they are people, just like everyone else.
So for her senior project in English class, she had to write a paper, work with a mentor, have a practical aspect, and give a presentation. For the paper, she worked with her mentor, who is a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle who focuses on homelessness. The practical part was giving away sandwiches. So she recruited some students from her Human Rights Club at school to assemble lunches, and then she and one other girl went to Civic Center and started handing them out. Again, it was really a rewarding experience. Taking the time to stop and look at, talk to, the homeless amongst us not only reminded us of their humanity, but of course of our own as well. Similar to volunteering at a soup kitchen or delivering Meals on Wheels, I think that when you do these things, do just a little bit to lighten the load of someone in need, you get more than you give. Maya told me that not many of the kids in the club could come that day, but they were inspired by assembling the meals, and they may try to organize a bigger group and go in again. I hope they do.