Today, I had an experience that has humbled my heart beyond belief, and reminded me of the bountiful blessings in my life.
I decided to strike out today to visit my old coworkers, and then go buy food to take to a tailgate at a baseball game this weekend, where I will be hanging out with my social media friends. After visiting with my old coworkers, I headed out of town. As I passed a local intersection, I noticed 3 young people, 2 boys and a girl, with a sign, and 3 large leashed dogs. This intersection is at a shopping plaza, and often people will panhandle there. I was struck immediately by how young these kids were, late teens to early twenties, and the fact that they had dogs with them. I knew that there was no way I could just drive past.
I turned my car around at the next parking lot, and headed back to find them. They were hurrying toward a car that, while probably as dependable as they could afford, was not in the best condition. I pulled into the parking space next to them, and asked them what their sign said.
The one boy quietly responded that they were just passing through, and down on their luck, needing a little help. He quickly followed up with the statement "but we are leaving now, because some woman just yelled at us and threatened to call the police". My heart was breaking. I told them that I did not have any cash, but would it be ok if I took them to a store in the shopping plaza to buy them some food, and food for the dogs. They seemed so amazed that I was willing to do this. One boy stayed at the car, with the dogs, while the other boy and the girl came with me.
As we walked to and around the store, I got a little bit of their story. They were homeless. They travel from place to place, trying to find work to make enough money to take care of themselves, and the dogs. The dogs all had tags on, and they told me that they made sure to keep up with their shots, that the dogs were microchipped, and when things were really tough, the dogs always ate first, even if the kids did not. I was amazed. They had just returned from New Orleans, where they had been working on houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. They said the devastation down there is still quite bad.
In the store, I asked them what they wanted, and they basically told me they were happy with anything. I wanted something that would provide them with some nutrients and calories, so we opted for bananas, wheat bread, and peanut butter. I asked if there was anything else they wanted, but they were so happy with just that. I also got a 15 pound bag of dog food for the dogs. They were so grateful and appreciative of this small token; I wished I could do more. $23 dollars was what I spent. Such a small amount, but to them it seemed to make all the difference in the world.
We walked back to the car, they loaded the groceries into the car and dog food into the trunk which contained only a gas can, sleeping bags, and a couple of backpacks. I wished them well, and safe travels, they thanked me, and waved goodbye with huge smiles on their faces. The whole thing lasted less than 30 minutes.
Living in a small town, homelessness is not visible to me. I know it exists, but I do not see it first hand very often. Before people become homeless, they have lives just like you and me. They have families, and friends, and pets. People forget that. I imagine that when faced with homelessness, people try to hold on to what little they can. I bet plenty of homeless people have pets that become homeless with them, yet we really never hear or see that. These kids were doing the best they could to keep their little family (that is what the 6 of them were, you know, a family) afloat.
It saddens me that they had encountered someone who was cruel to them, just before I stopped to talk to them. They told me it happens all the time, and that breaks my heart. People have the misconception that the homeless are lazy or crazy, or that panhandlers are just trying to make an easy buck. These kids were thrilled with the fact that I offered to buy them food, and that I treated them with respect. They struck me as hard working, and kind. I hope I showed them some kindness in return, because there, but for the grace of God, go I.
I live a comfortable life. What seems so common to me would be a luxury to these kids. Me, with my iPhone, my full cupboards, my soft bed. You can bet, when I came home, I gave my dogs lots of extra snuggles. Please note that I do not write about this situation for praise or accolades. I just want people to think a little about how they view those who are homeless or in need.
So many things had to fall into place perfectly for me to encounter these kids today, I know it was God, speaking to me, and humbling my heart.