Reaching Out to Serve our Brothers and Sisters in Need
I met a man whose alias name shall be Mike. Mike had expressed to me that he wasn’t homeless. However, the little that he made on his job was barely to pay all of his bills. This left him with limited resources to pay for his necessities like food, clothes, and toiletries. He was grateful for Reach and Love coming out to serve him because he was in need of the items that we were giving away. Shortly after having a conversation with Mike, a minister of the local church looked at the items in the bag and approached me and stated that the items we give away do not serve the “truly homeless.” I was in shock and offended when I heard his comment. What is “truly homeless”? Is it those whom we ignore daily; people with torn up clothes who are sleeping on the bench? What about those who are unable to afford stable housing forcing them to live with family members, in shelters or transitional housing facilities?
Never once did the minister ask about our experiences serving people in need or about the relationships we have built along our journey. He never had the chance to discover my personal experience with homelessness as a child and that the items he deemed ineffective were actually resources that I wish had regular access to while experiencing homelessness. At times my mother couldn’t afford things like a toothbrush, so I learned how to use a washcloth and toothpaste to “brush my teeth.” I learned how to take a “bird bath” with a washcloth, hand soap and common sink area because of the lack of accessibility to a clean bathtub or shower. I learned how to scrape lotion from a lotion bottle so that I wouldn’t be ashy all day; swiftly avoiding the trauma and verbal abuse of extremely honest and brash grade schoolers. The minister of this church seem to had chose to be ignore my story for the sake of feeling right. It was at this moment, as the painful memories of my life flashed before my eyes, that I wanted to pack up all of the donations, toiletries, and snacks to close up the Fill-A-Gallon event and never do it again. Embarrassed and shocked, volunteers standed around looking at me waiting for a response. I mustered up a politically correct and respectful, “Thank you for your comments. We will take that into consideration.” Yet, in my heart, I knew I had to pause and reflect on my personal experience of being homeless and the fact that this minister was unable to listen to my story because he positioned himself in opposition of our cause.
Today, I choose to listen to Mike’s story, reflect on my own, and all of the other positive comments that come from the people we serve. We get to listen to their stories without rushing to judgement which is a luxury for us and a right of the person sharing. When we enter into these spaces and ask people if we can join them for the evening and serve them, they share their stories with us. People ask us for prayer, we exchange hugs, we develop relationships. We find out what their needs are and do our best to meet them. I have met many people like Mike during our Fill-A-Gallon events. Working people that make just enough to get by, but have to decide whether to pay for groceries or to keep their electricity on. Leveraging the stress of deciding to either pay for their children’s clothes and hygiene needs or pay the water or gas bill. This last event caused me to re-evaluate the mission and vision of Reach and Love. I included low - income families in our mission and vision because people in need are not always just experiencing homelessness. There may be an intersection of barriers that impact multiple layers of their lives. Reach and Love is afforded the opportunity to humbly serve and love people from various financial backgrounds as we listen and meet the needs of people based on their prayer requests, conversations, and more. Throughout the Bible we are told to serve those in need (examples: Proverbs 3:27, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 22:9, Romans 12:13, Matthew 25:44 - 45, Luke 3:10, James 2:14 - 17, Luke 10:25 - 37). This is not based upon their outward appearance. We at Reach and Love choose to serve and listen to those who are experiencing any financial hardships and / or homelessness.