“Fred’s truck has been in the parking lot at work for two days. I wonder what’s up. I’m worried about him.”
“Hm. He probably went somewhere with someone else, and left it overnight.”
The only time I met Fred was at the local watering hole karaoke night. Little, wrinkled, quiet. He didn’t sing and he didn’t drink, but I heard he had a great voice. She gave him a hug, and he wandered off. He had called for help before, needing to borrow money she couldn’t loan. I forgot about Fred. Until a week ago, when the weather turned freezing.
Two days later, someone looked into his truck. Fred had died alone in the cold.
I never knew whether Fred went to the local shelter for meals, or got clothes from the places that gave them out, or if he went to the food bank. Truth? I didn’t know he was homeless; no one explicitly told me, and I never thought to ask.
Are You My Brother?
Several weeks ago, I got a feeling that I had to do something to help the homeless population in my home town. I see them around; some are seasonal, some are here year-round.
Summer-time, they hang out on the little public space outside the library, or up on the river walk that our city built to make a community place for farmer’s markets, outdoor concerts, and the like. A local homeless shelter feeds three meals a day. Winter cold-weather comes, and they walk all night to stay warm, then sleep sitting up at the library, or the few shops around town that have easy chairs.
So, the homeless…now that I’ve seen them, I can’t un-see them. But what am I supposed to do? I can’t just invite them all home to do laundry and take baths, and sleep. Can I?
What Do You Need?
I could serve food at the shelter, work in the kitchen, whatever. As long as I can keep a table and a long-handled spoon between us–as long as I don’t actually have to touch them. What if I embarrass them by my presence? My do-gooder, patronizing attitude? I don’t know what to say. “Have a nice day?” I’m ashamed just thinking that.
Then I slammed into the same wall I have hit so many times: fear. When did I begin to think that homeless meant dirty and dangerous?
Then, a piece of brilliance. Give them socks! Yes, that thing that I always needed as a child. Ill-fitting, sliding into my shoe; rubbing the back of my heel raw as I walked; poking my toes or heel through the hole in them…socks. But not just any cheap socks. Get them good socks. I love my practically indestructible ski-slope socks.
Who Doesn’t Need Socks?
And then I saw this cool advertisement by a sock company. They created ‘the best sock in the history of feet,’ and launched about two years ago, with an intriguing twist–for every pair of socks they sold, they would donate a pair to the homeless, made especially for people who don’t take their shoes off, or get to launder their socks daily. They said they would give a million pairs away in ten years, and they have already given that many away in about two years!
So, I ordered Bomba’s socks. While I waited for them to arrive, I went to the Work Outfitters down the street, and bought some SmartWool Trekkers. It was already after dark. I looked in the places I know the homeless congregate, but face it, it’s cold out, baby, and no one is around. I copped out–I ended up leaving those first pairs of socks on the front porch of the men’s homeless shelter.
Finally, my Bombas came! I started to give them away. I walked up to a small group of guys I saw in a local eatery. I cobbled together the courage to put them into peoples’ hands, and…wait for it…
…talk to them. Yep, I approached and asked if I could talk with them. I told them my sock story. They were polite and listened. Then I invited them to talk to me about their realities, and I was polite and listened.
I realized that everyone has a different story, that it is impossible to craft a one-size-fits-all solution to their needs.
But they are as human and valuable as anyone. I am so grateful that they told their stories. And the guys are loving their new socks!
If this story knocks on your heart with a message of action, I encourage you to listen. Find that thing that you are passionate about (yep, socks for me!) and just go do it. There are so many opportunities to connect with and be of value to our fellow humans. Call the senior center, local schools, churches, or shelters. You have a gift to give that only YOU can give!
For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison and you visited me.~Matthew 25:35,36
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