Last night I slept in my full bed with the flat pillows. This morning I raided my fridge for munchies only to face a different craving fulfilled by items in my pantry instead. The following is my experience with those who have to experience life differently…
Ten minutes away people were waking up on flat mattresses and poking their head out of a camping tent. They didn’t have a fridge… instead they stood in line to receive food. If they craved something else they were SOL.Ten minutes away… it was a different world.
For several months I visited the “Tent City.” I was near the industry-rich Ulmerton Road, minutes from the busy Tampa Airport, a block past the UPS building I had visited many times before… and surrounded by the “homeless.”
The “Tent City’s” real name is Pinellas Hope. Within its fences, rows of tents stood. Most of us use them as a fun pastime aka “camping”… these people call it “home.” As I walked around a snaking line of people waiting for dinner, I could also see trailers (learning centers) long picnic benches (the cafeteria) more trailers (the bathrooms) bike racks (the transportation) and short wooden huts (to shelter the lucky few during the rainy season). Rather than tell you about the Hope and all it does… just read about it here.
I ended up at the Hope because of my desire to help the homeless. Just me. I wasn’t trying to get community service hours or got roped in by some organization. Just me. (To the surprise of more people than I wished) My work was simple—place the prepared food onto plates… rinse… repeat… the fastest cafeteria line ever. Afterwards I’d help clean and sterilize everything. That’s it.
We’d average 350 plates for dinner. Everyone was especially enthused if ice cream was involved.
As I watched the faces streaming by, my biggest surprise was… they could be anyone! Yes—there were the stereotypical tired face on top of a baggy shirt and stained jeans. But some of them… if I had passed them during my lunch break in Downtown, I wouldn’t have looked twice. They looked like teachers… kitchen staff… businessmen. I met an old, talkative Greek man who just started college again. I remembered the almost-gothic girl who wore the same black jacket each time… The guy who looked like Eminem but liked to sing country songs…
When I was young, I was often dragged into my dad’s tireless work helping the poor—now I do it on my own.
I DON’T do it for that “good feeling”… in fact I look down on that because those volunteers often just help once and only because they had piggybacked some organization. That’s it! I got my brownie points for the year. With all my blessings, I feel like I OWE God and the faceless community who unknowingly helped me succeed in life. And I hope if I ever fall on hard times, there will be a place like Pinellas Hope with all its volunteers to help me get back up again.
It’s been months since I last helped the Hope. Serving food is not enough— a part of me is ashamed to show my face there again without some grand scheme to REALLY help the homeless. Until then I am trying to go back and help where needed.
Then ten minutes away I’ll return to my bed in my apartment and repeatedly thank God for all the blessings He allowed me to grab. Please… don’t wait for your school, work, or youth group to organize some volunteer gig for you guys… and ESPECIALLY don’t wait to volunteer until you “need the community service hours.”
About the author:
Pyra-Danny made a working list of 10 New Years Resolutions in early 2012. Let’s see how she’s keeping them! Resolution #2 “Volunteer somewhere ANYWHERE for a while”