Sunday, November 08, 2009

Serving what some would call "the least of these"

Last night, Andy, Kevin and I helped the Salvation Army's "Grate Patrol" in Washington, DC, handing out food to the homeless. The SA van goes out every night and has regular stops. Our church is responsible for donating the food and manpower (besides the driver) the first Saturday of each month and this month, my small group took on the task. Kevin and I delivered food one other time but this was Andy's first time doing it.

Kevin loves this project and enjoys getting out of the van to hand people things directly, including going with an adult to people who can't make it over to the van either because they are sick or injured or don't want to leave their belongings behind for someone to steal. The people we serve get a kick out of having Kevin there. I was sure one woman wanted to tuck him in her bag to take with her.

Driving to the city last night, Kevin asked, "What if we see homeless kids?" He asked in a thoughtful but not emotionally sensitive way. I said that we wouldn't likely see homeless kids because most people who are homeless aren't children and that most children who are homeless live in shelters. I also said that I don't really know that much so I could be wrong.

And wrong I was, as we did encounter two boys with their father. The older boy was about Kevin's age (7) and the younger was maybe 5. They were near the front of the line at a large stop so we were busy handing out food and didn't get a chance to talk to them but we heard from the driver that the boys' mother was deported. Their father was taking care of them - they were born in the U.S. so are U.S. citizens - trying to make his way and get the woman to be able to come back to the U.S. From the little interaction we had with them, they seemed well-adjusted, which is a strange thing to say about kids on the street but that's the first thing that came to my mind. They were with their dad and doing what they knew. I'm sure they haven't always been homeless, but they, at the moment we saw them, were taking it all in stride.

Looking back, I wish I'd gone outside the van to talk to them (I was inside dishing soup most of the time but could've made time to walk over to them). Something else that struck me was how Kevin looked at them the same way he looks at any kid. He was kind of shy and didn't want to make a trip over to talk to them but I could tell he would've gone with me if I'd gone over. And that's how he'd be with any child - in school, at the store, on a sports team...

Last night was a great chance to encounter the people that we serve - to look in their eyes and see part of ourselves and to then turn our gazes inward and see part of them inside us. What makes us human is the same in all of us.