Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bitter Cold, Bitter Winds In Chicago Tonight

I'm going out. I don't want to do this, I won't lie. But, although it's my choice, I can't not go. I sit here in my warm, little apartment, aware of the irony. "I'll go when it's not so freaking freezing," is just so wrong. I get to come home to a warm apartment. A hot bath. And this makes me want to cry because, where I'm going, there will be people who are telling themselves, "gotta keep moving, gotta keep warm; don't fall asleep," and I have the gall to say "I don't want to do this?"

As I write, it's 15 degrees (-8C) Fahrenheit outside with 25 mph winds. And it's only going to get colder - as cold as -29 (-34C) Fahrenheit with windchills. There are people out there with no where to go. So I'm armed with hand and feet warmers, socks, and a little food. It's not much but I've got to go.
UPDATE: I was out from 10pm until midnight last night. The good news - there weren't many people out in the wind. The bad news - there were some people out there. As I walked past a few of the 24-hour coffee shops, it seemed that they were being a little more lenient on their usual "no loitering" rules, thank goodness. Half a dozen pair of socks, hand/foot warmer sets and bus passes delivered. I finally hopped on a bus at 11:57pm when I couldn't take the cold winds any longer.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Merci! Gracias! Yislamou! Danke! Hvala!.... THANK YOU!

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it."

~ William Arthur Ward

You know, one of the biggest, most wonderful surprises about "going public" with my volunteer work has been the outpouring of support I've received from friends, acquaintances and even people I've never had the pleasure of meeting before now! From the kind comment of a passer-by as I'm spending time with a homeless person on the street to the donations I've received... I am in awe and cannot thank you enough for sharing a love that has transformed me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

To the friend in Michigan who sent a humongous box of coats, blankets, socks and more... THANK YOU.

To the retired social worker who has started a "socks drive" and who somehow procured a stack of vouchers for coats at the Salvation Army store for me to give out... THANK YOU.

To the people who have added manpower and strength by joining me on the streets, and especially to those who have spent your holidays doing so... THANK YOU.

To the anonymous donor who surprised me with a check for $200, enabling me to buy 48 pair of socks, 48 toothbrushes, 48 tubes of toothpaste, 48 nutritional bars and 48 hand warmer packets... THANK YOU.

To the guy who donated more than two dozen pair of jeans (and then fed me!)... THANK YOU.

To the church outreach ministry that joins me monthly, bringing fresh food, water, clothing and prayers... THANK YOU.

To the people who send wonderful, heartfelt messages of encouragement... THANK YOU!

Another Night.

The last two weeks in December, I went downtown a few more times than usual. Some trips were planned, others were spontaneous. Twice, I brought my daughter with me - she's heard about my volunteer work but, until now, has never had the opportunity to join me. One night, we'd been out to dinner at Portillo's. I try to make sure I bring the pink bags with me whenever I know I'll be going downtown and this night was no exception. We decided to walk around and see if anyone in need was out and about. We saw a man on his knees, doubled over. "Help me. Please. Somebody please help me," he moaned over and over again. His name was Levi and he hadn't eaten in days. After making sure he was alright, I gave him our left-overs, nearly half a pizza. We also gave him socks, deodorant, hand warmers and a few McDonald's bucks. We walked on.

Next, we met an older man, homeless and very, very drunk. Due to his intoxication and, we later learned, arthritis, he was unable to get up by himself. I braced my legs, offered him my hand and gently pulled him up. We chatted a while. He was in good spirits and thanked me for treating him like a human being. I hear that a lot. It makes you wonder what's happened in a person's life that causes him or her to thank you for treating them like they're human, you know?

As we made our way up Michigan Avenue, we passed out socks, toothpaste, and deodorant here and there. We walked past an indoor ATM kiosk and, in the window, I saw a homeless woman curled up and sleeping soundly. My daughter asked if we should go wake her but I thought it might be better to just let her sleep. The police would come along soon enough to make her move and I just hoped she could get a little rest until then. Did I make the right decision? I honestly don't know. But I truly hope and believe in my heart that I did.

The last person we met that night was a man who was standing in front of Water Tower Place. We found him hunched over, leaning on a walker, plastic bags wrapped around his bare feet. The temperature was 23 degrees outside. Again, I was astounded by the number of people who walked by without even glancing. His name is Martin. I asked how his feet were doing; he confessed he hadn't looked at them in several days. He needs special orthopedic shoes. I'm still working on trying to find him a pair. Thank goodness he does have a pay-as-you-go cell phone; I got his number so I can call him occasionally and make sure he's okay.

You know, a few things jump out at me when I'm out helping street people. First, as I mentioned earlier, the number of people who walk by without even seeing them. It takes my breath away. The other thing is that, although I've been criticized occasionally for the work I do, I'm glad people see me out there. It never fails - someone always comments and says, "that's a good thing you're doing." I can't help thinking that, for every person who says it, there are at least five others who are thinking it as they see me out there with my pink bags. I don't say this to brag or show off. I just hope it has a positive impact when people see me living my belief: Be the change you want to see in the world.