Today I went to Target with the kids to get a new lamp for the living room. Maxwell accidentally knocked the old one over the other night, and I hate how dark it is in here without it.
When I pulled into the parking lot I saw this homeless boy that hangs out at the entrance with a sign that says, "Hungry, please help." I have seen him there off and on for about three years now, but that isn't how I first met him. When Maxwell was about five months old I went to Target to get a few things, and this kid and his mom were in the parking lot with windex and paper towels, offering to wash people's windows for either cash or school supplies. He was about to start school (his senior year, he told me) and needed notebooks and stuff. I had just gotten that car washed the day before, and I never really carry cash, so I couldn't help him out. And all I had purchased was baby stuff, so I didn't even have something that I could offer.
I forgot about him because I didn't see him for a while, but in the last year he has been hanging out by the entrance on Empire Avenue with that sign. I remember the first time I saw him after quite some time. I thought, "Wow-he looks so thin. Poor kid must really be homeless now." I think I even may have said that out loud to David once when we were there together. I really felt bad for him, and I wondered what happened to his mom, or if she was at the other entrance or something.
Now, I live in the Los Angeles area, so there are plenty of homeless around. But in my sheltered little Burbank, there aren't too many. There are a few that I encountered when I worked at the downtown Starbucks. They were a nuisance to me because they would come in and lock themselves in the bathroom for an hour to clean up, and I always had to go in there and clean the room when they were done because it was such a mess. When I worked at the Empire Center store (by Target), there was a big guy who would come in and pay for a coffee with a bunch of change. I thought, "If this guy worked so hard to get $1.85, why is he getting coffee at Starbucks? Why not go to a gas station and get twice as much?" I guess he just liked the good stuff and it was worth it to him.
But back to the Target boy. Today when I pulled in, he was there, with his sign. I couldn't stop thinking about how thin he looked compared to when I first met him three years ago, a boy about to start his senior year of high school. I wanted to help him. As I was getting the kids loaded into a cart, I thought, "I'll get him some groceries, but I'll buy stuff that I'll be able to use in case he isn't there when I leave."
I went into the store and got my lamp, then swung by the groceries and picked up a few things. I got a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, a box of granola bars, a bunch of bananas and two bottles of water. Then while I was waiting in line to pay I threw in two snickers bars, a pack of gum and some Wet Ones. On my way out I stopped by the snack bar to get some plastic knives (since I had gotten him peanut butter) and a bunch of napkins.
As I was walking to the car, I started worrying. What if he isn't there anymore? Yeah, I could use this stuff, but I really wanted him to have it. I jogged a little, got the kids in the car, and took off. Instant relief when I pulled into the lane and saw him there with his sign. When the light turned green and I approached the young man, the car ahead of me stopped to give him some change. He said thank you and the driver went on his way. When I got to him, I stopped traffic, opened my window and handed him the bag, saying, "I bought you some groceries." He looked at me, then the bag, and as he reached for it he started crying. CRYING. "Thank you SO much," he said, with a shy smile. A car honked and I pulled forward, but as I turned the corner, I saw in my mirror that he was turned around, waving at me.
I felt so good, so sad, so inspired all at once. This kid stands out there on a regular basis. Has this never happened before? Does he just get spare change here and there? It must be a good spot for him, if he keeps coming back. But the surprise and gratitude I saw in his eyes was REAL, and it made me so sad. And then in the same moment I felt good. I smiled.
I found myself thinking of the lyrics to a song from Avenue Q, and I laughed out loud. That musical is a parody of social issues, but the lyrics I was thinking about were true:
All right, all right, here you go.
What's the matter?
I feel generous!
I feel compassionate!
Yeah! I feel like a new person - a good person!
Helping other people out makes you feel fantastic!
That's what I've been trying to tell you-
All this time I've been running around thinking
about me, me, me - and where has it gotten me!
I'm gonna do something for someone else!
It's so silly that I thought of that song, but I did feel good after helping this kid. I DO feel good. Am I going to do this everyday? Every week? Every month? No. A couple times a year? Sure. And I know that there are a million other things I could do to help people who are less fortunate. I know some pretty amazing people that do great things! My friends are so generous and loving!!
My friend Kate goes to a homeless shelter once a week to make and handout food. My friend Annie is passionate about Fair Trade and is starting to blog about her experiences in learning and growing. My friend Anita collected baby stuff from a bunch of us to deliver to an orphanage a few months ago. I have several mommy friends: Carrie, Anita, Viv-who use cloth diapers to do their part to help the environment. My friend Renee' hosted a party at her house and made Easter baskets last spring to take to a local homeless shelter that houses children.
I am sure that many of my other friends do wonderful things to help their families, communities and peers. I am open to new ideas, but I am also willing to lend a hand!
Tell me!!! What do you do to help?