Back in October I walked into our training room here at Gateway Center to find something in the ballpark of 50 orange jack-o-lanterns filled to the brim with candy and there were stickers everywhere and streamers too. I had the distinct feeling that a party was brewing. In fact, someone had made a donation specifically for the purpose of throwing the kids staying in our Women’s and Children’s Center a party for Halloween. I wish I knew who donated these items because I would love to send them a thank you note. They understood something really important.
Every week there is a pastor and his wife who come to tutor children in various subjects. At Christmas time they brought a friend who dressed up like an elf and gathered the children to her feet and with her little elf stocking hat on she told the story of the candy cane: it’s legend and meaning and why it’s important. The kids sat enraptured in the story. There was a birthday cake in celebration of the birth of Jesus in a corner, ready to be cut and shared. It was an unorthodox Christmas ritual, but hey, the kids love cake. There’s something about Christmas that does me in when watching this scene, so before I know it I’m ducking back to my desk to hide the tears in my eyes. My little Grinch heart was suddenly three sizes too big.
I get calls all the time. Sometimes we get folks who just want to drop off some clothes that they really want to see go to people who need them. We have partnerships with great organizations that provide necessary supplies like socks, towels, hygiene kits, and shower curtains. We need it all and we use every last scrap. Sometimes we find a bag of what amounts to trash dropped off and that breaks your heart that some people don’t understand what the Halloween People know. Yet sometimes the most thoughtful souls you have ever met will call me up saying they have decorated shoe boxes full of goodies specifically for the mothers to be given on Mother’s Day. It’s a little miracle, these phone calls. It’s a beautiful sight to see our Volunteer Coordinator carting through dozens of Easter baskets that were donated by a loving member of our community.
The key is that we have to keep celebrating. We have to press on in finding the beauty and wonder of a day and say “thank you”. We have to sing and dance and eat cake because there is something very human in this. For a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness, being treated like a human can often be a rare thing. It’s easy to avoid eye contact on the street and it’s easier to think of the people sleeping under the bridge or on a park bench as just an unfortunate part of the scenery. Yet, these are people like you and me. By virtue of our species, we celebrate special days, we celebrate the turning of seasons, and we celebrate each other. There is a great dignity in this and it’s easy to overlook in the hustle of providing services. Sometimes doing a job can cloud or view of our greater mission.
The other day we had a big group of volunteers down from Ohio and some kids and their parents doing arts and crafts with them in our lobby. It turns out that we had a birthday of a small boy. I think he was turning 4 years old. Think back to when you turned four. Can you remember? If you can, it’s likely one of your earliest memories. The delight of the cake and the presents and, who knows, maybe you had a bounce castle and a magician. I certainly was not quite that privileged.
This little boy had a big cupcake that our volunteer coordinator pulled out of nowhere. We gathered all around and we asked him if we could sing to him. He said no, but he would allow us to sing to his grandmother. So we did. We sang Happy Birthday in full-sailed gusto to the boy’s grandmother, and then he had his giant cupcake. We clapped and smiled and we went back to work. I hope that boy graduates from high school and goes to college. I hope he has a family one day and a job that fulfills him. I hope he has a house and a dog, if he likes dogs. I want the same things for him that we want for ourselves, because he’s a boy, a person. I hope he looks back and remembers our off-key singing and knows that he was worth celebrating that day… that day and always.