My Shelter Experience

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Comfort, Safety, Pride. These are the distinct feelings I get when walking into my home. Due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, these feelings sometimes go unnoticed, but I always come back to the gratitude for the sanctuary I call home. I have lived in many different homes, in many different types of neighborhoods, but no matter the size and location they have all been a place I could call my own.

When I think about what home truly means, my mind wanders to those people who do not have a home. Just a fifteen minute drive, in both directions, there are many families who are homeless. I get pretty fired up about this topic, especially when it comes to homeless children. So recently I organized a week where we would provide food each night for the families living in a local homeless shelter.

A side note, most homeless shelters rely on the community to help with meals. This particular shelter’s budget for food is only about $1,000 a year to feed at least 7 families in the summer months and many more in the winter months. Yes, they get some support from local food banks, but they really depend on community support. Now I don’t know about you, but my Safeway bill comes close to that amount….per month.

This information shocked me so greatly that I sent an email to twenty five families I know and asked if they wanted to participate. Four nights filled up quickly and my family took the fifth night. This was the easy part. Then, a few surprising and unexpected things happened. First, I was surprised that others had reservations about bringing their children to the shelter. People started to ask questions: Is it safe? Are you bringing Noah (my 5 year old son)? What should I expect to see? To be honest, I hadn’t thought twice about taking Noah. I wanted this event to be a learning experience for him and to make charity a family thing, not just something Noah sees Mommy doing.

Maybe I should mention that I had been to this shelter on two other occasions. Party In-kindness (if you are new to the blog, that is my non-profit organization)  worked with the shelter to drop off Mother’s Day gifts for the moms living there and the other was an official tour of the facility because I had been working closely with them. My perspective was different than those going for the first time, so I knew this hesitation had to do with their inexperience with shelter work. I felt a light needed to be shed on the positive aspects of exposing children to this very real way of life.

And, with a lot reassurance, each family took their children. A good decision in my opinion because of the overwhelming privilege in which our children are surrounded.  I reminded them that most family shelters are made up of families just like mine and yours who fell on hard times and just needed a little help to get back on their feet.

So our night came and my son jumped right in playing with the children as I started to prepare the meal (well, open up the Chinese food containers). Now before you picture me as a woman who preaches, but doesn’t practice, I will explain my lack of four-course meal cooking. I had taken a poll from the families and Chinese food is what they requested to eat on the evening my family came. So these cardboard boxes filled with the best Chinese food in town spared them from my mediocre cooking skills. Anyway, Jessica, a mom of 6, came to the counter. We had chatted earlier in the week when I helped another family serve their meal. She had been there the longest and was very quiet and sweet. She came to the counter to get seconds for the kids and said, “I’ve been living here for almost a year and this was one of the best weeks of meals we’ve had.”  It was like she reached into my chest and took hold of my heart and hugged it, tight.

There are many families, just like Jessica’s who need your help. Be a facilitator amongst your family and friends. You will be surprised that your neighbors and friends want to help but don’t know how. You will be surprised that your children can handle the emotions connected to charitable work. Teach them, reassure them, and you will be surprised how the experience will change you and those around you. Think about these families the next time you open your front door, arms heavy with groceries. Think about them the next time you open your refrigerator, or sit down to eat a meal with your family. What can you do to help and encourage those around you to do the same?

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