I have always had a heart for the homeless, but in recent years the influx of exit ramp sign-holders has turned my heart a tad cold. Cold in that I don’t always believe that the person is homeless. I also don’t feel comfortable giving cash because I don’t know how they are going to spend it. I recently have resolved that 1) it is not my job to determine if they are being honest or not and 2) it is not my job to help them be responsible with their money. It is my job to respond to the Lord’s leading if it is there. Even with my reservations and the tad bit of coldness, I have always toiled over how I could help the “roadsiders”, and now that Winter is drawing near, people without shelter are on my mind even more.
A few weeks ago I volunteered to help a lady in my church make blankets to pass out to homeless people in our city. She and her husband started doing this many years ago and it is typically how they spend their Thanksgiving (which is now on my brainstorm list of Thanksgiving traditions to start with my family). All we did was cut high-quality fleece and round the corners. My family and I joined their life group (i.e. homegroup, cell group, Bible study) one Saturday afternoon to pass out blankets. We were also given some survival kits put together by another life group, fleece hats and mittens. Our family was the only car that did not spot homeless people, so we gave most of the things to a shelter. However, I saved a little of everything in case I saw anyone throughout the coming weeks.
On our way home from church on Sunday we saw a man standing at the exit ramp light, holding a sign, and there was a woman sitting beside him. She was wrapped in a blanket. I have never been so excited to see homeless people. “Honey! Roll down the window!” I exclaimed from the passenger’s seat. He hesitated, but I said it again. As the window rolled down and the survival kit, hats and mittens were nearly flailed (the light just turned green and we were at a busy intersection) out the window, the look on that man’s face was a look that I neither understood when I saw it, nor have the words to describe in voice or in pen. But, it broke my heart. I was instantly brought to tears (which I managed to suck in until later in the day). I was seriously effected, and continue to be. I now know that I can never turn another blind eye.
I rarely carry cash and still don’t feel comfortable giving it out. Sure, money is good, but someone would have to collect so much of it in order for it to be truly helpful. Here are a few ideas of ways to help the homeless without giving cash. These ideas are very practical. It is my goal to always have something on hand to give freely, joyfully and gratefully.
- gift cards to local convenience stores, grocers, or even fast food. I will choose the gas station or grocery store, and would ideally like to have about five $5 gift cards on hand to give away.
- make a survival kit. The ones we gave away had toiletries, a notepad, snacks, etc all in a one gallon plastic bag. I have seen a site that discusses giving away entire backpacks full of goods such as canned food, a tarp, toiletries (don’t forget feminine hygiene items–it’s amazing what we take for granted), a can opener, a Bible etc.
- give away blankets, hats, mittens, or socks. A lot of this can be bought at thrift stores or dollar stores. I think I would prefer to give someone a new pair of socks, but I think something like thermal socks would still be great used.
Those are all the ideas I have so far, but doing one of those somethings would be way better than the nothing I’ve been doing.
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:35-40