Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shelter

We arrive at the shelter in the morning with eight carloads of first, second, and third graders. They are energetic, eager, sometimes distracted. In concept, they understand that they are helping, but do not yet know how much.

From our cars, we pull out bags of mittens, socks, children’s books, teddy bears, coats, and blankets. In addition, they have collected cans and bottles since the start of school, and have raised $106.00 to share with this place called Father’s Heart Street Ministry.

We tour their very organized warehouse-like surroundings, led by the founder. She is small in stature, but clearly a force of nature. She has been called for this purpose, and is passionate about serving those who have no place to call home. She is adamant they be treated as equals and called by name. There is no such thing as a John or Jane Doe.

It smells of cigarette smoke mingled with laundry detergent. We hear the click-click of a zipper as clothing is tossed about in a nearby dryer. Visitors are able to wash and dry their clothes once per week. Comforts of home have been recreated in the form of a living room area, with cozy couches covered in once-popular fabric colors arranged in rows in front of a large-screen television.

We learn that a second shower has been added recently thanks to the blessing of donations. The shelter is always open during the day. At night, they are open when the temperature drops below freezing. Mats line the walls in perfect piles. We are told that these mats – on frigid nights – are used by those needing a warm place to lay their heads. They take the mats, and find any open space they can on the cold, concrete floor.

A few of the school children remain distracted by the surroundings … the voices from the television, early visitors having a bite to eat. Most of the others have a look of concern as they simultaneously listen to the leader describe what led her to create this haven while watching an older gentleman, curled up on a mat, coughing deeply. It is sinking in.

I am having trouble seeing clearly, as my eyes fill with tears. I will not cry. The individuals here have smiled at us as we’ve walked through the facility. They don’t want our sadness, they have no interest in pity. They simply want our minds to be aware; and, if possible, our hearts to stir us to action. I blink back the tears by focusing on the sheer magnitude of organization throughout this place - - coats, sweaters, socks, shoes … meticulously arranged and labeled with care so items can be quickly and easily located.

My eyes connect with my son’s … literally and figuratively, they are wide open. He is clearly saddened by what he is seeing and hearing.

We hear of children who come and visit this place to have a meal, take a shower, read a book, and maybe receive the blessing of a soft teddy bear. Something to hug when they are scared, or cold, or hungry.

I suspect that each child’s grand illusion of how cool it would be to live in a car is slowly being replaced by the reality of what that really means, as we hear of families literally doing just that, or sleeping under bridges, or - if they are “lucky” – rotating through the homes of friends and families who have some extra space for a night.

The high walls of this large space would likely tell stories of both heartache and healing … those who have found hope, and those who are still seeking. The space is remarkably tidy and our guide shares that – upon opening the doors that morning – those waiting in line picked up a mop and broom, and started cleaning before doing anything else. They respect this space in which they are given the same.

I leave with an unrelenting feeling of tension in my chest that lasts well into the afternoon. But, that feeling is slowly replaced by others which linger long after the day is over … among them, gratefulness, heartbreak, inspiration, and hope.

24 comments:

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Such a powerful and emotional experience. The people who need such a shelter benefit tremendously from people with hearts like those of you and the woman you spoke of. Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful and sad and hopeful story with us.

Beth Kephart said...

oh, gosh. thank you for this.

MG Higgins said...

What an amazing experience for you and the kids. A definite reality check. Thank you for sharing.

Hilary said...

That had to be quite the experience .. and so well told. There are some wonderful people in this world.

Kelly said...

Wow. Excellent descriptions, I could hear, smell and see the shelter. That must have been an eye opener for everyone. Thank you for sharing and for helping those in need.

storyqueen said...

Wow...inspiration and heartache...

Tess said...

Beautiful thoughts here.

PJ Hoover said...

This is so touching and beautiful, Kelly. I love that you posted this!

gaelikaa said...

Thank you for sharing. It was lovely. And congratulations on the POTW mention. I hope lots of people come and read this.

LadyFi said...

Moving, sad and inspiring! A great post.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Beautiful-- the well-written post and the experience.

Land of shimp said...

That was a wonderful thing to do! Children form their ideas about compassion and being charitable early on, and it is very important to see people in need as being, much like them. You did a wonderful thing in your own turn.

I think sometimes the evidence that the lives we are living right now, are nothing but a beautiful dream to so many is always a profound experience. We get very caught up in worry about what we don't have, or what is failing to go right. It takes stark reminders at times to remember how truly fortunate we all are, if we simply have shelter and enough to eat. Not everyone does.

Thank you for taking those children to see a part of the world that will need them, if they have fortunate lives also. You wrote this up exceptionally well, by the way, I truly enjoyed reading it, and found it very moving.

blunoz said...

That was beautifully written and well-deserving of Post of the Week. I commend you for taking your son to experience this, too. I have thought more than once about taking my boys to do something similar.

Sarah Laurence said...

I love the image – it captures the spirit of the event, so do your words. How good of you all to help.

Julie Dao said...

This was a beautiful and powerful post. I think it's very easy to feel bad for others, to empathize, and do nothing about it - it takes initiative to want to help and extend your time and heart to others. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done and I hope to do much more. What a great thing you've done and to share it with the kids is setting an excellent example! Thank you so much for sharing.

Nora MacFarlane said...

Wow. It's easy to forget sometimes how needy the community can be. Especially this time of year. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration.

järnebrand said...

A beautiful, strong and powerful post. And inspiring, too. You're right, they don't need our pity, never asked for it. But we need to be aware there are other worlds out there, where things that we often take for granted do not exist. I love how you helped those kids help the people in this shelter!

Shelli said...

wow - this touched me - thanks!

deb said...

Oh this just went straight into my heart.

congrats on the award, and for being so gracious

Amy Tate said...

Love this post. It reminds me of the time my mother asked me to help her co-teach a good-news club at our local resue mission. I was 23 and had never set foot in the place. I prepared my missions story the night before, but nothing could have prepared me for that next afternoon. Children of all sizes, races, and backgrounds scrambled to be the first on my lap. Most of them weren't wearing shoes either. They were the most loving children I've ever encountered. Sometimes its a good thing to feel your heart break, ya know?

Susan R. Mills said...

Certainly makes you thankful for what you've got, doesn't it?

Kelly H-Y said...

Thank you for stopping by ... I've so enjoyed your thoughtful comments!

Anita said...

Nice words...thanks for sharing this experience!

Faith, Hope, and Love said...

Wow...such a touching post! We are truly blessed...aren't we?

Love and blessings,
Robin