As women, we typically want to take care of everyone and everything – all the time.
Asking for help is one of the hardest things we ever do.
Naturally, we all need a hand sometimes. But often, wouldn’t we rather just put on a brave front? Wouldn’t we rather deal with things on our own rather than face the vulnerability it takes to admit we are struggling?
What if we needed help to afford diapers for our baby? Toothpaste for our eight year old? Sneakers? Deodorant? What if we didn’t even have enough money to cover rent and had to live in our family van?
What if we had to humble ourselves to admit we can’t even provide the basic essentials our children need to survive much less thrive?
Can you imagine?
Honestly, I really can’t.
Heck I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for eight years – I’m blessed to be able to work for free and still offer my children every opportunity. I don’t know what it feels like to live in uncertainty of how I’ll keep their bellies full and a roof over their heads.
I have, however, witnessed how quickly homelessness can sneak up on a person with a good heart.
Several years ago, a close family member went through an addiction and mental health crisis after losing a job. It was due to an injury on the job but somehow didn’t qualify for disability coverage. He struggled to gain employment and spiraled into extreme depression, anxiety and substance abuse and even verged on homelessness.
He changed into someone we didn’t feel safe allowing into our home with our children, yet who we loved deeply and wanted with all of our hearts to help.
The guilt and horror I felt at having to watch him verge on homelessness without being able to attain the mental healthcare he so desperately needed was tremendous.
I tried to convey to him how much I loved him and remind him of the good person inside of him, willing him to overcome despite his current situation.
I did my best to help him secure a treatment center (don’t get me started on how hard that is, with our limited inpatient mental healthcare facilities.) Yet I felt helpless as I basically watched him wind up living on the streets.
If it was awful for me, imagine how it felt to be him – I really can’t, I’ve never been there. Just talking to him during that time was so painful it changed me forever.
Thankfully he received the help he needed and is back on his feet. Due to my love for him, I have developed a special compassion for the homeless and mentally ill.
So it really, really, really – beyond words – touched my heart when some friends started volunteering at King’s Harvest Homeless Shelter in Downtown Davenport.
What felt like a guilty, shame-filled chapter of my family history was suddenly a topic being considered with compassion like (of course) every challenge should be but somehow homelessness too often, is not.
Just the simple action they took of stepping out of their comfortable lives to show those living in poverty how much they care healed a part of my heart. I realized I had been wounded by witnessing so much apathy and even judgement for those unfortunate people. Especially when I saw this happen to those I was close to, those who I saw so much good in despite their destitute season of life.
If it helps my sister heart to see how much people care about the homeless, imagine the potential impact a place like King’s Harvest Homeless Shelter can have on someone who actually finds themselves needing help while living on the fringes of society.
Can you imagine the consolation of being met with the openhearted kindness of strangers and graced with essential supplies for survival, along with a treat or two? I believe there is nothing more important than caring for the poor.
So of course, I followed their example and volunteered at King’s Harvest too.
And let me tell you what I saw: My Brother in each of those people.
A person with a good heart and a unique story. Someone whose problems I unfortunately cannot “fix.” Someone I want to take care of. Someone I am grateful to be able to do even just a little concrete *something* for, to support them on their journey and hopefully help them feel loved and accepted in a real way.
But what I also saw that blew my heart wide open and inspired me beyond words was the sense of community among the volunteers. These selfless people who join together with the common purpose of helping the less fortunate and showing them love and support. It was awesome.
I can truly say that I’ve had an amazing summer all-around, enjoying nature and making memories with my family; but in that dimly-lit flood-prone basement at King’s Harvest, confronting some of the darkest challenges in our society, handing out goods most of us take for granted, I saw the most beautiful sights I’ve seen: compassion, comradarie and generosity of spirit.
Nothing is greater than a sense of being of service to others in such a direct and essential way and nothing is more uplifting than joining forces with caring individuals to serve others.
Alert: this is NOT intended to be a guilt trip. We are all devoted mamas doing our best to be of service in the world, whether by working hard to make ends meet or volunteering at our kids schools – frankly, we all probably feel like we could use more help than we’re getting. I am not trying to pressure anyone to do more than they can and go into burnout mode.
I would, however, like to challenge all of us to start SEEING the needs of our homeless men and women as extensions of the needs of our own families. Even just in the privacy of our own hearts, by sending them loving thoughts or a warm smile when we see them begging on an exit ramp, or in educating ourselves on their plights and developing a true empathy for the challenges they are facing. In our hearts, let’s take ownership of those who are less fortunate than us and begin to look for opportunities to help out or donate financially.
I would also like to say (as someone who has done much volunteering at church and for my kid’s activities) that working directly with the poor is different than typical community service we moms tend to do. I hope you can open up to the possibility of how much life and joy comes from being of direct service to the homeless and explore the possibility that it’s exactly what we all need to put our own daily challenges into perspective.
In our materialistic society, I think as hard as we try to live simply and be grateful for what we have, it takes an up-close and personal encounter with those whose problems are far bigger than ours to naturally make us more content with our own circumstances and even motivated to give more to help others. Yes, it’s a sacrifice of time. And yes, it is so totally life changing and worth it: I want to make sure you know how rewarding it can be:)
2. Make little care packages for the homeless, to distribute directly to people who are begging on the side of the road (for example, include a McDonald’s gift card, a granola bar and a water bottle or get creative). This is a great way to include the kids, all you have to do is pull over and hand it to them, and you’ve shown them that you care without overextending yourself. Be careful, of course and only pull over if you are in a safe location!
3. Donate financially (many shelters have online donation forms, which are tax deductible).
4. Drop off supplies when you’re out and about (Often, things we thoughtlessly throw out like hotel soaps are priceless to those ,who are living in poverty. Or you could try donating vitamins, basic medical supplies, shoes, cologne or toilet paper – the list of needs is endless). Cologne and perfume samples are other coveted items for those, who are unable to take frequent showers.
5. Spread the word. You can share this article on your Facebook page for starters. Be someone who shines a light on the problems of others, which are all too easy to forget. We ALL can do that with the click of a button.
6. If you do volunteer, bring some friends or family members to help: I can’t think of a better bonding experience, even kids are welcome to help out at King’s Harvest.
I truly hope you are inspired to serve the poor and homeless in some capacity at some point, when the time is right for you! I promise you will be glad you did.
How are you serving those who live on the fringes of our society? Have you ever had a wonderful experience volunteering with the homeless? We’d love to hear from you!