Friday, December 19, 2014

Feelings Friday: Five Ways You Can Help the Homeless

Television commercials at Christmastime call all shoppers to leave our homes and travel to the mall. Reams of catalogs fill our mailboxes with shiny stuff to add to our dinner table for the family we will welcome home.  Recipes for delicious sweets to make from scratch to bring to our work parties stream our email. We have warm shelter, meaningful work, friends, family, and we want more.

And at every street corner you see . . . panhandlers. Panhandlers are the visible among the invisible.

At last count there were 1300 homeless men, women, and children in the Metro area. Many struggle with addiction, mental illness, and domestic abuse.  Some are veterans. The chronic or episodic homeless are the invisible, you have to know where to look to find them.

It is believed that many panhandlers are not "really" homeless.  There are many reasons why a person would be willing to wait in the elements for someone to notice them. Whether homeless or just needy- I have learned the "why" really isn't my business.

My teacher is Rick Swyden. He is an ordinary person who does extra-ordinary things.  Rick's ministry began on  a trip New Years Eve in 2002 when he took the time to make eye contact and conversation with a man on the streets of San Antonio.  The first Sunday returning home Rick and his wife Susan made some hot dogs and brought bottled waters to the streets, alleys, vacant lots, and back-roads of downtown OKC. Rick hasn't missed a Sunday in eleven years.  He is known on the streets as "The Hot Dog Man" and his mission has grown to include young volunteers at schools and churches who decorate the bags, church groups who ride along to bring clothing, and whoever else wants to show up and help. Rick taught me that eye contact and a smile feed the deepest hunger- loneliness.

Rick also inspired Sister Barbara Joseph. Sister Barbara is a local nun who joined The Hot Dog Man long enough to recognize the need for the homeless to have a sense of community.  In January of 2006 she began her own work through Sister B.J.'s Pantry.  The downtown location serves as a space for connection.  Volunteers serve and interact with the homeless- the homeless have an opportunity to stay and talk with each other.  A beautiful garden is the focal point in this peaceful space.

There are no easy solutions for hunger, homelessness, and loneliness. But ordinary people are doing extraordinary things- would you like to help?

5 Ways You Can Help:

  1. Pick a Sunday to ride along with the Hot Dog Man.
  2. Donate water, white socks, or blue jeans to Sister B.J.'s Pantry.
  3. Donate financially to Rick or Sister Barbara's ministries or the main shelters that provide for our chronic homeless in OKC.
  4. Create a winter care package.  A gallon size bag will hold items easily  and can be distributed from your car. 
  5. Don't forget to make eye contact, smile, and say hello when you see a lonely, hungry, or homeless person. Yours may be the only kind contact they have received in a very long time.
(Approximate cost $3. Hat @ Walmart, Gloves @ The Dollar Store)