Today I decided I was tired of doing things for myself. ME ME ME!!! This is MY blog and MY journey…but I want part of this journey to be about giving to people less fortunate than me. Last night at my cooking class I thought about how lucky I was to be cooking delicious, healthy chicken for fun and how fortunate I am to be able to do something like this blog for 30 days period. Learning about new things and taking classes, going to social events and gatherings, football games, going to medical appointments and being able to care for my dog…the list goes on! Not everybody in this country is able to do some of those things we consider basic parts of life. I am blessed to have such supportive family and friends and beyond lucky to be in the situation I find myself in now. Thank you to my wonderful boyfriend Daniel for that!
It breaks my heart to see anyone in need and in downtown Chicago you can barely walk down the street without seeing a homeless person. There are quite a few hustlers out there…sometimes when Daniel and I are on the way to dinner and all dressed up, a guy will follow us for blocks singing in our faces until we give him money. Last weekend we had a guy come up to us frantically asking for money because he ran out of gas and his wife and kids were in the car. Daniel pulled 3 dollars out of his pocket and gave the guy 2 of them…then homeboy he had the audacity to ask for the 3rd dollar! Problem was Daniel recognized this guy because he had tried the same bit on him weeks before. In my opinion if someone is going through all of that trouble asking for money, they definitely need it more than you do. However, no one likes to be lied to.
When I first got the idea for my blog and put it in motion, I signed up for several volunteer waiting lists. The make a wish foundation, habitat for humanity, anti-cruelty animal shelter, Chicago volunteer match website and several soup kitchens. I had no idea how difficult it was to volunteer. Just to get your name on a waiting list you have to answer a bazillion questions! I was able to schedule a volunteer orientation with PAWS Chicago but that isn’t until October 6th. Obviously I don’t want to just volunteer for the day…I have committed to volunteering there for 6 months. Along with helping animals I want to help people, and I was tired of waiting so I took a different approach.
I decided today that I would get a handful of $5 gift cards and bottled waters and walk around the city and give them to homeless people I encountered. This was a little out of my own comfort zone because I usually get very nervous around them and can’t even look them in the face. I am not sure why that is. I think society as a whole treats them as less than humans and that really bothers me. I'm ashamed to say that I have been guilty of this same behavior…but most people walk by a homeless individual and act like they are completely invisible. I have even heard people say mean and hateful things to them. Obviously something went horribly wrong in their lives, a little compassion wouldn’t kill you!
I bought three McDonald's gift cards and two Dunkin’ Donuts cards and began my quest. It took me over 20 minutes to find the first guy! Funny how the day I was looking for them they would all be hiding, but I went up and down every street searching. I was curious how they would react to my gift cards instead of money. Turns out they were excited about the cards...McDonald's being the favorite! I was nervous each time I spotted a new person, but I walked straight up to them with a smile on my face, made eye contact and asked them if they were hungry or wanted water. They were taken aback at first, but completely appreciative! I asked them all how they were doing and they were all so sweet. One guy was sitting on the sidewalk tying his shoelace and at first glance I wasn’t sure if he was homeless. How awful and embarrassing if I offered him food and water and he was just dressed like a homeless guy but not really one!? After I gave away my 5 cards and all my water…I went to Walgreens and got two more $5 Subway cards and a few more drinks and snacks. Giving is addicting! The next homeless person I encountered was a lady with such a colorful personality. She saw my snacks and requested some chips…I gave her cheez-its and chips ahoy and she yelled, “Lawd Jesus is watching over me today!”
It was very rewarding giving to these people and briefly visiting with them. Their smiles definitely brightened my day! You can see in their eyes that they appreciated my gifts and the fact that I didn’t treat them like they were invisible. I caught people looking my way with confused and alarmed looks on their faces. I guess some people are scared of homeless individuals because of incidents they hear about...but I don't see the danger in giving someone food and water in broad daylight on a crowded street. It cost me less than $50 dollars to help out 7 people. Maybe next time you are out you will pick up an extra gift card and surprise someone in need!