This past Veteran’s Day, a friend of mine decided to have a birthday celebration. She asked her friends to join her at the local kitchen, Project Share, which serves meals to the homeless and low-income in Albuquerque. I and my two children (both 12) decided to not only celebrate her birthday, but honor veterans in the spirit of giving. The experience was unforgettable.
Project Share was started in 1984 by a chef who fed a homeless man. They have grown now to serve nearly 750 meals a week, 6 days a week, with local chefs donating their time to cook meals. To add to that, they have a small room where they give toiletries, diapers, bedding, clothes – whatever they happen to have on hand… and that’s where our adventure begins.
We pull up to a very nondescript blue building, beside which is “Hope’s Half Acre,” a garden for the chefs to use. Inside, our very frazzled (but gracious) host led us to their back room. A local hotel had just dropped off pillows, towels, washcloths, sheets, pillow cases, and light blankets and it was our task to make a bed packet. My friend and my children began casing the pillows, then loading the pillow case with all the aforementioned items to make a sack of bedding. These are given free of charge to any person who asks. While they made packets, the birthday girl and I made packets of diapers, 10 to a pack, thanks to the donation of a local store who dropped off a large box in each size.
I can’t begin to accurately express what begins to dawn on you when you realize that people come to this place so much for diapers, they were out. As we were making packs, we have a young man come in and ask for some for his soon-to-be-born child. Children and infants happen to be some of the most overlooked in the homeless population – but that they make up nearly a quarter of homeless people is staggering. Here in Albuquerque, kids under 5 account for nearly 18% of the homeless population. That doesn’t count the many children who have a home, but don’t know when they’ll be eating their next meal.
We also gave out toiletries to the people who came in and asked – little things like trial size shampoo, razors, a bar of soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, lotion, and Chapstick. Seeing the gratitude, the relief, the joy on the faces of the people that came in and could ask for those small creature comforts and necessities was so far beyond words. It was a reminder of humanity – compassion and caring, helping and loving your fellow man.
We closed up the “shop” and went out to get ready to serve dinner. I had talked to my kids beforehand with a simple single sentence: Just treat them as you would any other person. Neither myself nor my children had ever worked directly with the homeless and less fortunate. My soul was utterly unprepared for the reality that faced me as they walked in to take a tray from my hands.
I greeted them with a smile and eye contact and garnered the courage to treat them as I would anyone else. “How are you today?” The answers I received back were just mind blowing and incredible. One man told me how he had been jumped the day before and had his bags stolen. That he’d lost everything – his pillow, his blankets, his jacket, his toiletries. I asked him if he was okay for the night, and he nodded. “I worked hard to get some stuff back, so I’m good for tonight.” Several people stopped to look at me, stunned that someone was bothering to ask them anything at all. They smiled big, said they were doing the best they could, and asked me how I was. Others told me how nice it was to see a kind, smiling face. While so many responded with kindness, with joy, with relief – one woman sticks in my heart. She had a large bruise on the side of her very stoic face. When I looked at her and asked her how she was, she couldn’t talk. She nodded and the pain… I don’t think we can call ourselves human and not be touched by someone in such deep pain. I reached out and rubbed her shoulder and she walked on, wiping the tears from her eyes.
Most of the people we served that night were jovial and in pretty good spirits, meeting up with friends they hadn’t seen around in a while, catching up with buddies they knew. The food, they said, was great (and it smelled fantastic, I can attest). They came back for seconds, they stocked up on cookies after all was said and done, and I watched them leave with a chorus of “Thank you’s” and “God Bless you’s.”
I have been moved so deeply, as were my kids, but I’m not looking for a pat on the back. I’m writing this because I am hoping that seeing our experience will motivate others to do this for the less fortunate in their neighborhoods. Even if you can’t donate your time, knowing what small things you can give – razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, Chapstick, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, soap, towels, washcloths, blankets – all those things we tend to take for granted, all of those things mean so much and are so necessary to someone who hasn’t the means to buy them. Not to mention clothes. I am ashamed to admit that even though I donated to Goodwill, I never thought about the people who don’t have the money to go to Goodwill. There are people so at the bottom right now that they need clothes, and since it’s getting cold, they need them now more than ever.
I will absolutely be doing this again in the future. My kids are excited to do it again as well. I don’t take my life for granted – I am comfortable, my needs are met – but there are many others who do not have that luxury… at least not right now. This experience was a lesson for me and my kids, not only to learn more about the people who in such dire straits, but to learn about ourselves and our capacity for compassion – something inside each and every one of us.
To find places in your area that will gladly take your donations or your donation of time, please visit: http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/ This site lists food pantries as well as shelters.
To learn more about Project Share, please visit: http://psabq.org/
Nicole has written three novels, a feature-length script, and many short stories and short film scripts. Her debut novel, “Carla’s Rivet” is scheduled for release on March 1st, 2014. Her short story, “Millsburg,” is available on Amazon.com and Smashwords. Please visit http://nicoleagramlich.com for more information.
- Findings on Homelessness (nicoleagramlich.wordpress.com)
- US Veterans Mark Holiday by Serving Meals to Homeless Vets (voanews.com)
- Homelessness is Not Just for Christmas, it’s an All Year Round Concern (sys-con.com)