For a while now I’ve been wanting to involve my children in little “service projects” to teach them the value of helping others and thinking of others. So far that desire has been simply that: a desire. Not an action.
I started to reflect on my lack of initiative, and realized that I am pretty self-centered most of the time, too! I rarely seek out opportunities to help others, and even when one comes my way, there are always excuses.
I can’t take a meal to Mrs. Just-Had-a-Baby from church because she lives on the other side of town and that is too far.
I can’t participate in the church’s “Homeless Tote Bags” charity because I just don’t have enough money to buy the items for the bags. It would have to come out of my miscellaneous envelope, and we’ve already used that money this month.
“All human flesh has the same substance; there is no difference between the flesh of the nobility and that of the peasants . . . rich people often speak about charity, expressing their good intentions, but their deeds do not match their words . . . turn words into actions.” – St. John Chrysostom
If you live in Nashville, you’ve seen the people who stand on street corners and sell the “homeless newspaper,” actually titled The Contributor. Let me tell you, I am typically one of those people that stares straight ahead and doesn’t even acknowledge the person. And I will admit I have been curious as to whether the sellers were truly homeless or not. I am even guilty of checking out their shoes to see how worn they are!
Well, last week I decided to roll down my window and buy one of the newspapers, and I took the paper home and read it cover to cover.
Wow. I am so humbled.
It turns out that the people who sell the papers are either homeless or formerly homeless. And “formerly homeless” doesn’t mean they are now living in a 2,200 square foot house with two cars and a full-time job like I am. One of these “formerly homeless” individuals is a writer for The Contributor and says, “My new home is approximately 168 square feet, with a full bath, a decent closet – and it was partially furnished when I moved in . . . I’ve got an $8 painting on the wall.”
I also found out that the people who sell the paper buy each issue for 25 cents and sell it for a dollar. They get to keep their 75 cent profit and any tips.
Now, back to said “Homeless Tote Bag” project (yes, this is a real project that my church is doing – filling up paper tote bags with toiletries, water, snacks, etc. to hand to homeless people we see). My family has a modest dining out budget of $50 every two weeks. If I were to take that $50 and go shop the dollar mini-toiletry bins at Walmart or Target and pick up on-sale snacks and water, I could probably fill at least 5 bags. (Maybe more if I go to a dollar store.) Would it really be that hard to forego eating out for 2 weeks to do this? (“Eating out” usually consists of a couple of visits to wild Chick-Fil-A or driving through Taco Bell and bringing it home anyway! Nothing fancy-schmancy.) Wouldn’t my children enjoy helping me pack the bags? Sure!
Lastly, I think that there are always non-monetary ways to help people. A phone call. A homemade card from a child. A ride. A thoughtful gesture. A kind word. A visit.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matthew 25:35-36