Doing Your Part

(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.

3 thoughts on “Doing Your Part

  1. You are such an awesome mom! (And I know where you learned how to do that!) And Maya is such an awesome kid! The only reason the world isn’t totally going to the devil in a handbasket is because of people like you guys, who take the time to make your little corner of it a better place.

    Thanks so much for doing this!

    Love,
    Auntie Kate

  2. Your work to expose Maya to the larger world with care and compassion is a gift that will pay rewards forever. I delivered Meals on Wheels for about 25 years as my children grew up. They started in car seats and what a pain it was to get them in and out of the car for each delivery but the clients loved seeing them. As they grew up they were allowed to go the clients door by themselves to make the delivery. They felt so grown up. We live in a very urban economically mixed neighborhood and they met people they would never have met without this experience. They learned that respect and manners and compassion cross economic and ethnic lines. We also occasionally volunteered at a church where hot breakfasts and bag lunches were served to the homeless. My daughter, about 10 years old, would set the tables and when someone finished and left would reset the place for the next client. As she was standing around ready to do her job many of the homeless men would approach her to make certain that she had gotten breakfast and that she was taken care of. They offered her gifts of the cookies from their bag lunches. They showed a caring and compassion that is often sorely lacking from the broader community.

    • Jaykayem, you delivered Meals on Wheels with children in car seats? You’re a miracle. Teaching the kids such lessons is invaluable, but I don’t think I have the patience to do the car seat in and out thing like that, especially at lunch time when I’m sure my daughter would have fallen asleep.

      The clients do love to hear about my daughter, though, so I can only guess how much they would have loved to have a little one delivering the food. What a great idea.

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