Jason called me on Valentine’s Day from the Costco parking lot. “Hey, I just bought a crapload of stuff to give away to homeless people. Want to come with me to hand it out?”
He had skipped his monthly poker game. Instead he decided to use the time and money allocated for the day in a different way.
I had never done anything like that. It seemed like the perfect day to start.
“Um….Sure! Want to drive down in the Hugmobile?”
We didn’t know exactly where we were going, so headed to the area near the downtown library. We quickly found “skid row” near 15th and Island. There is a little sidewalk community with no shortage of people who could use a little help.
I’ll be honest…I was kinda scared. I have interacted with homeless people many times, but never on such a large scale. I have never worked a soup kitchen or volunteered at a shelter.
Jumping into a crowd of people who are clearly outside the Status Quo means you can’t expect that everyone is following the “rules.” Not that I am stickler for the Social Contract! I have no problem with people choosing not to follow the “rules” of business attire, facial tattoos, or even daily showering. But “rules” like “drive on the right side of the street” and “Don’t attack strangers” have served me nicely. Plus, the overlap between homelessness and mental illness could mean that “the rules” could be fuzzy and confusing in some cases.
We were warned that if we pull over for a “drive-by,” that we would be mobbed. (So many groups “drive-by” to give out food that they have a name for it.) After some consideration, we decided to hand things out from the doorway of the RV instead of setting up a table on the sidewalk.
Once we confirmed to the people on the sidewalk that we were, in fact, doing a “Drive-by,” an orderly line formed. What happened next was a blur, but wonderful.
With some minor exceptions, every person we encountered was friendly and gracious.
We worked frantically to throw our goodies into little care packs (Water, snacks, socks, razor, & sanitizer in a gallon Ziplock) and hand them out to the next person in line.
In minutes, we were covered in sweat and all of our loot was gone.
Jason and I hung out for a few minutes afterward to hang out, but the crowd cleared quickly.
We were both buzzing. All of our worries were for naught. It was a wonderful experience and a love-filled way to spend Valentines day! Of course, we recognized that our outing impacted the two of us much more than it did anyone we gave a care pack to. But positive change is positive change.
I felt like a weight of fear had been lifted. A subconscious wall between myself and these street-living people had been knocked down. I never felt like I was giving charity. Instead it felt like I was simply gifting some excess material stuff to a fellow brother who needed it. It was no different than giving an extra dust mask to a fellow camper at Burning man. We met eyes, and interacted with respect. There was no power difference. Only connection.
Jason and I decided to make it a “First Saturday” monthly event.
I posted up a little video about our experience on Facebook and invited anyone to join us on our next trip. We invited people to join us physically in the Hugmobile or donate money & stuff.
That’s when the magic got visible.
By the time we gathered for our second outing, several people had dropped off clothes and half a dozen people around the country had sent in $ via Paypal. A crew of 8 showed up on the day of to help make care packs and hand them out downtown. Two amazing mothers even brought their sons to help. Not only that, but a number of people emailed to let me know of similar actions they were inspired to take in their communities.
We had more confidence and knowledge this time. Plus more resources. So we made AWESOME care packs this time. We had toiletry kits, clean socks, water and juice, and made sure the snacks were soft (Street living leads to bad teeth). We even made a last minute run to the 99cent store for rain ponchos since the forecast called for a downpour later in the day.
We headed back to the same area, but took our time. We set up tables and allowed ourselves more time to interact. But even with all the additional goodies, the packs went quickly.
I looked around and was struck by how visible the ripples of Love were:
Jason made a single decision.
His action affected me.
Our action affected the people who joined us the next time – with donations of money or time.
And then those actions affected the many people we were touching in the street .
One seemingly small decision can send untold ripples through the world.
The idea that “I can’t make a difference” sounds pretty silly when you look at the chain of events. A more realistic perspective is, “I can’t help but make a difference.”
The reality is that your entire life is impacting people. Every step you take and word you speak is part of your sermon to the world. And you never know who might be affected.
You don’t need to seek out opportunities to do good. You simply need to keep steering towards Love… and let the ripples flow naturally.
Now, who is free next Saturday? ☺
Want to join us in the Hugmobile? We are meeting on April 3 (day before Easter) at 11:00 to make up the care-packs and then head down. We should be done by 1.
Want to help make sure the care packs are with awesomeness? We could sure use some financial help. (*click to donate*)
Paypal (any amount is helpful. All $ goes directly to buying stuff. This is guerrilla-style charity – we are not a registered non-profit. Therefore donations are NOT tax deductible.)
March 29, 2010
Someone commented on my first video that the homeless are just going to trade their care pack for drugs or booze. To which I replied, “So what?”
A gift is not a gift if it comes with obligation. Our goal in these first Saturday outings is not to “fix” anyone. We are not acting as parents or saviors. We are just fellow human beings who are extending a little love and compassion to brothers and sisters. We are not extending a hand to lift anyone out of the gutter. There are many wonderful programs working to rehabilitate people and get them off the streets. (Alpha Project is a wonderful one right across the street from our last Drive by.) Our intention is energetically more like a hug. There is no “goal” for a hug – It simply allows the walls between people dissolve for a moment.
(*click to donate*)