November 12, 2012 by theappress.wordpress.com
Yesterday I had the privilege of helping out at a Thanksgiving event through the St. Vincent DePaul Center and the Marillac House. About 300 of us volunteers showed up, but I honestly didn’t know what we would be doing. Once herded into the gym that was converted to look like a large dining room we were told we would either be placed at a station or would walk with a homeless person that was in line for the event, taking them to various stations throughout the building. We would first walk with them to the third floor where they would receive a sleeping bag, thermal underwear, a hat, gloves and a scarf. Afterward we would head down to the second floor to speak with representatives from various shelters around the city and about job training programs, leading our guests to then pick out a winter coat and shoes. After they received their supplies we would sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner with them, then lead them to the first floor where they could have health or dental screenings, HIV testing, or podiatry care before leaving the event.
The first man I escorted through the building had so many coincidental similarities with me that we hit it off right away. His name was Philip and he had been born in Chicago but grew up in Muskegon Heights in Michigan. Being familiar with Michigan and Muskegon we chatted about seeing movies at the drive-in theater in the area, going swimming at Lake Michigan and talking about the Detroit Tigers and Lions. He also told me he had a son my age going to Michigan State and was so proud of him and how accomplished he was. It was great to just sit back and listen to his stories and see how happy he was that he came out to the event.
The next woman I took through the building, Audra, was in her mid 20s and had been discharged from the Navy, unfortunately due to substance abuse. Since then it has been a constant struggle for her to find employment and she has had to bounce around from shelter to shelter in the city. I especially had a lot of fun with her and she had a great sense of humor, constantly saying this was the best shopping spree she’d ever been on. Though she seemed like a tough woman with her close cropped blond hair and tattoos, she couldn’t stop smiling and we had so much fun picking out an awesome vintage leather coat and a kick-ass pair of shoes that just happened to be for little boys but looked awesome on her. We talked for a while, especially about her time in the Navy. She said she was only 20 when she entered and made a lot of bad decisions that she has to deal with now, but the Navy doesn’t trust her to return even though she completed a rehab program. I know she made a lot of bad decisions, but it seems harsh that she can’t enlist again. She clearly has matured a lot and is tough enough to go through bootcamp again, but I guess second chances aren’t always given.
The last woman I escorted was the hardest to talk with and it was hard not to get emotional when the event was done and we said goodbye. Even worse I can’t remember her name. When we were first paired up she was soaking wet from the storm outside and kept thanking me every time we went to a station to pick out clothes and other supplies for her. While talking she had just been on the street for a month now after she lost her job and her apartment. The hardest thing was that she never expected to be homeless, and now her only prized possession was an old portable radio with headphones that she listens to so that she can hear the news and still know what’s going on in the world. While eating we bonded over Catholicism, our Irish heritage, politics and music. When she finished her plate she quietly whispered, “Honey, I’m so hungry. I haven’t eaten in a while, do you think there’s any way I could go back up for more?” It took everything not to break down so I snuck her onto the opposite end of the line, going through again. When she left she gave me a huge hug telling me this has been the best thing to happen to her in so long and she was so thankful and hopefully we would cross paths again.
I think the hardest part was that nearly everyone there never expected to be in the situation they are now in. At a time where the economy keeps getting more and more depressing, it’s scary to think that something like that can happen to anybody when you least expect it. For now since I’m blessed enough to not be in that situation I think it’s important that I and others who are fortunate help the homeless, the hungry, the abused and more because you never know if that could be you one day.