Those words have been ringing in my head all day today. They were spoken by a homeless man I met last night who was shivering outside an already full shelter. Temperatures were near or below freezing.
I had no idea what I was in for walking into FUEL, the Orchard’s monthly leadership gathering. Scott called it the C-note challenge: $100 in 100 minutes. Each group received $100 with the challenge to bless someone or a group of someones in our town, in the next 100 minutes. You could not simply donate the money, you had to spend it somehow. We had 10 minutes to plan and off we went.
Its funny watching groups filled with leaders all try to come to a consensus and delegate in such a short period of time! Ideas flying everywhere! Our group settled on trying to help Aurora’s homeless community. We scurried through Wal-Mart purchasing gloves, socks, blankets, simple toiletries. Having seen our and other groups running through the store, Wal-Mart gave us 10% off. Cool. Then off to buy cheeseburgers. Initially we planned to go to people out on the street, train station, a couple other places we knew but because of the cold, most were at a local shelter. We were excited to get to help. We pulled into the parking lot and met two other Orchard groups with the same idea! And thank God because we had no clue what the need would be. A group of men(20-30?) were not able to get into the shelter and huddled near the door. The cheeseburgers were handed out in seconds as were the blankets, socks, gloves, hats etc.
About 18 years ago, some friends and I on a whim headed into(underneath actually) Chicago piling every extra blanket & coat we could find into our cars and distributed them on under the street (lower Wacker). We brought cheeseburgers back then too! I remember those men and women told us that they were enormously lonely. It had been years since someone had touched them. Just shaking their hand, looking them in the eye, or saying God bless you and giving them a hug lifted their spirits.
So, I wanted to be sure to talk to the men we met last night. Asking a name seemed foreign. One man said, “you want to know my name?” and another pulled his hood over his head to protect his privacy. That man, “Chuck”, was willing to talk to me away from the crowd. He did get gloves, a hat, socks and was thankful but admitted, “sure wish I could have gotten a blanket though. But I know how it is when you guys come here.” His cynicism and discouragement broke my heart. He had been to this place and seen groups come in (he believed) to give their token stuff so they could feel like they did something. He shared a little of his story, that he had been injured and couldn’t work and was developing other physical problems. I asked if I could pray for him right there and he looked shocked, almost panicky. I told him I would pray for him when I left anyway but wanted to pray with him now. He said ok. I prayed for his well being and beyond that I won’t get specific. Doug joined us during the prayer and touched his back. Chuck reached around and took Doug’s hand for the rest of the prayer. And we left.
It was all I could do today not to run to the thrift store, buy every stupid blanket I could find and then go stalk the shelter. I heard the people running the shelter were not happy to see our groups because we did not have enough for everyone. I understand the conflict that can arise from that–many homeless people are fearfully protective of their belongings because others are desperate to steal them. So maybe we were unprepared to bless the entire shelter or were intrusive or disorganized, I don’t know. I prayed that there would be more blessing than cursing overnight. It just kills me that we didn’t have enough. Even the ones who got needed more. It wasn’t enough. That just rings in my ears. “Sure wish I could have gotten a blanket though.” Crap.