My son turned four this past weekend and one of the things we talked about was picking out a toy to give away to someone less fortunate. We were looking through the insane amount of toys he had and books and he decided he wanted to donate a book and a card game. At church he learns about giving offering to those who need extra help, so the fact that he decided to do this on his own was impressive.
He had also put some money from his piggy bank into a separate bank that he asked to take to church this past Sunday and give to our pastor. He loves holding the money jar to walk around and ask people for money (the kids bring $1 or loose change each week to donate at the kids’ service). Several church members think he should be the next treasurer since he has no problem asking for donations. It’s always comical to watch him race to the stage to be the first to grab the jar.
But to know at age four, he is already aware that others aren’t as fortunate as he, and he wants to give back.
Tonight, I had the opportunity to have dinner with two families who are homeless. My church is part of a group called GAIHN, which sets up a weeklong “home” for women and families and gives them warm meals, a bedroom of fold-out beds, showers, laundry services and the opportunity to eat with members of the church. I brought pizza and salad and there were cookies and drinks for the two families to eat. People at church sign up for shifts to keep the families company.
So often, the face of homelessness and poverty is synonymous with laziness or freeloaders. People put such a stigma on the homeless as though they are just looking for a handout and refuse to get a job. The families in the GAIHN program have access to GED classes and job fairs. And they aren’t allowed to stay in their rooms during the day, but rather, must be out and about and potentially, looking for jobs. But I’m sure it brings them great comfort to know they have a roof over their head at night for them and their children.
Tonight there was a woman who had three children; a 15-year old girl, a 10-year old girl and a 4-month old baby boy. To see the baby hit home with me, as I have a 10-month old boy. Knowing she is homeless with such a young child just immediately grabbed my heart. We had a great dinner conversation and laughed and joked about baby stuff and I couldn’t help but smile at how cute the boy was. The woman mentioned her husband was staying at another shelter becauase they were going through a divorce. To already be divorcing with a four-month old again was just so sad to me. But she talked about the hardship of trying to work but not being able to afford childcare. As someone who has been puzzled and a little put off about the ABC vouchers allowed at my daycare, it suddenly hit me as to how valuable they are so that people in this situation can have the opportunity to send their kids to daycare at an “affordable rate.” Sadly, this woman couldn’t quialify for them and had nowhere to send her kids so she could try to work.
The other family who sat down was a woman, also with three kids. They were 14, 11 and 8. They were all as sweet as can be. As I spoke to the woman with the older kids, the floodgates opened. She just started telling me her whole life story and the position she was in. She had worked at a call center working her way up, making $35,000 a year and with no education, not even a GED, she was so proud.
But then her oldest son’s father committed suicide and so she was having issues with childcare. She didn’t trust her son yet to be the babysitter for the other two after school and she wound up in some bad situations with people taking advantage of her while trying to find reliable child care. As a result, she started missing work a lot so she could be there when her kids got off the bus. And ultimately, lost her job. She now flips burgers at Burger King and is afraid of what is to come for her family. Yet she is hopeful something will change for her.
We talked for quite a while and I offered to review and edit her resume, a skill I’ve enjoyed doing for others. She was extremely grateful. I watched as her kids enjoyed the pizza I’d brought and were very polite. We continued to talk and she told me her fears of her oldest son entering high school this fall. When I asked her where he was going to go, she winced a little, saying “we don’t have an address. So I don’t know.” It was then that it really hit home to me how dire the situation was.
Yet then, she started telling me about her heart-to-heart with her son. She told him how right now, he’s about to go to high school, and the future is bright before him. She wants to lead by example of what NOT to do, but also what TO do as far as making things change. She is so afraid he will say “well momma, you didn’t finish high school, why should i?” She is struggling with how to be a good role model, when she doesn’t feel worthy. She desperately wants him to graduate and get a job and have a great life. You could just feel the desperation leaking out of her.
Yet she never once complained or asked for anything or made me feel as though she wanted a handout. Like all good moms, she just wanted her children to be safe and well-cared for. She mentioned being embarrassed going to a job fair in her Burger King uniform, yet we talked about how that shows she already works and has a good work ethic and is employable. Her face lit up when I told her I would look at her resume. I was about to give her the shirt off my back when she said she was so sick of her clothes smelling like French Fries. But she said it almost jokingly, yet I know she was serious. But again, she didn’t ask for anything, just talked about all the ways she was going to try and figure out how to improve her situation. She currently wakes up at 4:30 for her early shift, works till lunch, then spends her free time before she gets her kids from day camp looking for jobs, applying and exploring the GED program. She barely sleeps.
As I was leaving I went back to the first mom I spoke to and asked if she could use some baby clothes, since my baby was a little older and I still have lots of baby clothes lying around. She was very gracious and said she’d appreciate anything. She asked if I knew of a stroller or had one, as that was one item she really needed. It was hard to carry the baby around everywhere and his carseat, as we all know, was getting heavy.
I’ll be honest, I have two strollers. Two. The Jeep Umbrella one and the Chicco one. And I actually do use them both. But I felt guilty in that moment knowing she needed one and I have two. So I decided then I’d try to buy her one. As a member of the Facebook group, KidsSift, I thought, maybe someone would have a cheap one that was gently used I could sell. I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable to be asking for stuff on the site, so I was a little apprehensive when I posted “anyone got a stroller for cheap for a homeless family at my church?”
Yet an AMAZING thing happened. As of now, my post has roughly 40 responses from women offering strollers big and small, formula, clothes, toys, furniture, offering to buy things for the family. I am blown away. Part of me wants to take it all and just give it to as many families that come through our church program. I don’t even know what to do with it all just yet. The comments from these strangers to me were so beautiful. Woman after woman, mom after mom, wanted to help. They all have young ones at home and undoutedbly are super busy and probably stretched a little thing with daycare and multiple children. Yet none of us are in the situation as these women at my church this week. And we all know it is an unspoken rule among mothers to help others.
To me, children are the most beautiful gift from God. They truly are a miracle. And to think any mother or child doesn’t have a home to raise them in, is heartbreaking. At the end of the day though, we don’t need the Kate Spade diaper bag or the ultra-expensive stroller. We just need a few necessities like diapers, wipes, clothes, food and love. Mostly love.
This mom wasn’t asking me for anything, other than maybe just did I know where to find a cheap stroller. And yet by me asking just the same question, I can’t wait to surprise her with the kindness of so many others. It reaffirms to me how awesome God is and his ability to provide when others need it most. I am humbled to see the hearts of others open to give this woman a care package that her son, named Kingdom Isreal, will greatly benefit from. Thank you all.
Today and this week, I’ve had a lot of insight and reflection. From seeing my own son learn the importance of giving to others, to seeing strangers offer to help me help someone else, to just the true faces of poverty and homelessness and how they defy the stereotypes. Next time you see someone down on their luck, just know they probably love their kids just as much as you do and are fighting harder than we’d ever know possible to keep their families together.
God is good, all the time.