Just for fun, I recently entered a worldwide flash fiction competition run by Inscribe Media (based in Britain.) The goal was to create emotion using 20 words or less. I had fun creating a few entries and was surprised when I received a special mention for this little story of 19 words:
As a teenager, I bought food for homeless people on the streets of Wellington. When I lived in Switzerland, people were amazed when they saw me buying hot food for those living on their streets — something as simple as a hotdog, a slice of pie, or some fruit to brighten their day. From the reactions of the Swiss, I could tell this was a rare occurrence.
Nowadays, attitudes have changed. The photo above is of Ben Hana, a.k.a ‘blanket man,’ who lived on the Wellington streets. Many showed kindness to Ben, who chose to live on the streets. When he died there was a temporary public memorial set up and a public funeral. He had become a persona and a part of many people’s lives. He was offered accommodation and clothing, but chose to live without both.
Perhaps we can’t make a huge difference in everyone’s lives, but a spot of kindness lets them know that people still care. One small token of love could give them hope to carry on. And if many people could give that token of kindness, then someone could be fed or housed.
I have a close friend who lived on the streets for two years as a part of his young adult life. It started with a choice to see how the other side lived, then he got stuck. He was always grateful for a offers of a night’s accommodation, but often turned them down, going to sleep in a barn or shed, outside, or in the local homeless shelter when the weather was rough. Soup kitchens, kind donations of food and charity organisations helped him get along until he turned his life around. He’s lucky. He’s now has a successful career, a great family and a wife who adores him. Few would ever guess that he has been there.
Another friend of mine said his roughest months were being homeless in winter, in London, living in a cardboard box. Cold and wet, inside a carton? The thought of it always makes me shiver.
We are all community members, and we can make a difference. But what can we do?
Seven years ago, I started an initiative to collect grocery items for battered women. I used an existing group to channel the collection. I was amazed when we were told that, each year, our weekend collection provided enough food for 6 months. Women who had left their homes in desperation when being abused and gone to the Wellington Women’s Refuge, could receive a few of our groceries to help them get on their feet until state assistance came through. We expanded the collection and included furniture and mountain buggies for kids, twin prams etc, kindly donated by a local company that we approached. Now, I am no longer involved, but that legacy lives on and that annual collection still takes place.
A few years ago, I engaged my local church to bake Christmas cookies for the homeless. Each year since then, this group has donated goods at Christmas time. Initially, we donated hygiene kits (toiletry items etc) and cookies to the ‘Wellington Night Shelter’ – a homeless shelter for men. Soon others in our neighbourhood heard what we were doing and started to donate home baking as well.
Sometimes we also reached out to include homeless women at the ‘Wellington Women’s Boarding House.’ Their toiletries were packed in gift wrap, to be given to each new resident as a welcoming gift. They received home baking at Christmas. I advertised their plight in a local news article and more donations came flooding in – turkeys for Christmas dinner and gifts for the women and children.
In 2013, that same church group delivered survival kits to the Night Shelter. These were home-sewn bags which contained essential survival items (torches, water, food, survival blankets, first aid items etc) to be used in the event of an emergency (earthquake, flood etc.) I was happy to see that, although I wasn’t involved, this same group had expanded and built upon my initial idea and were continuing to provide for those in need.
Get involved. Start a collection through your school or community group. Help out at a local food bank, make a donation to a local charity, do something kind for the next ten homeless people you see. Then keep on giving. It’s a great feeling, and highly addictive. 🙂
Eileen was awarded a New Zealander of the Year Local Heroes Award for her community service.