While standing at the corner of 6th and Lamar by Whole Foods, looking at the peach in my hand and waiting for the light to change, my daydreaming is interrupted by the shout of "GET A JOB!" Startled, I look up and see a man in a car glaring at the homeless person standing near me. The homeless person has a sign that says "Dreaming of Mexican Food". The peach in my hand seems heavy now and I walk over and give it to him. "Thanks man...God bless you" he says quietly. I tell him, "same to you" and mention that he should go to Wooldridge Park by the Downtown Austin Library around 6:00 and he can get a free meal from the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Truck. He says he will check it out and thanks me again.
The light changes and as I walk across I see a young woman in one of those small new "Ultimate Driving Machines" as she leans from the window and shouts, "Hey, why are you helping that bum!"I stifle the urge to say something and put my hand in my pocket to keep from waving at her with one finger. I am amazed at that thinking but not surprised. There are many people who have the idea that they want to be able to succeed without any help from anyone and that is laudable but not realistic because we are not all given the same opportunities. There is nothing wrong with concept that we can all achieve anything through our own efforts. My problem is with those who so arrogantly advocate this in blogs, books, online and in conversation without ever understanding that many people have never had the same opportunities from the very beginning and at the same time, taking for granted what they have!
We have all heard of the "Puritan Work Ethic" and though admirable it is not always realistic or applicable. I was raised in an affluent family (though I was not aware of it as a child because people were not valued by their income or what they owned) and with the same hard work ideology. My father was a strong proponent of self reliability and working for a living but he also believed that people had a responsibility to take care of those less fortunate. This came from his Christian back ground that he practiced as well as preached (which is why I never won the hypocrisy argument with him). He was in the grocery business in West Texas and I remember as a child accompanying him to the Salvation Army at Christmas to help hand out turkeys and bags of groceries to poor families in the community. As a child, I was uncomfortable at first but my Dad would remind me that we were doing something to make the lives of those who did without a little better. Even in the last years of his life he continued to donate money and volunteer with The Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, The Adult Literacy Project and Habitat for Humanity. I will forever remember his words, "We live in a country that is so rich and so powerful, there is no reason anyone should ever go hungry. We have a moral obligation to share our blessings with the less fortunate".
What many people do not understand is who is actually "homeless". At least half of the people in line are too mentally ill to hold a job but at the same time are not a danger to anyone but themselves. They are out on the street due to the fact that over the last eight years, the previous government administration changed the guidelines of who should be "institutionalized" and turned many of these hapless people out in mindless "cost cutting" efforts. The hope that the "compassionate conservatives" would fill the void never materialized and in fact has caused a severe strain on the general public, law enforcement and social services and exacerbated the a terrible situation.
Another large group of homeless are the working poor who have some type of job but are living hand to mouth, out of their cars or in shelters while they try and get enough money together to move back up. Many of these people have children, and when you see a child in a food line, only the most self absorbed and insensitive could look down on them. Finally, there are the junkies and winos and it's so easy to judge unless you truly know the monster that is the destructive power of addiction. The fact also remains that there are so many people living hand to mouth, only a paycheck or two away from being on the street. The economic collapse will only aggravate this already horrible situation. You get my point; the vast majority of homeless people are not there because they are lazy, shiftless or no-count.
About nine years ago, I joined a group from AvenueOne Properties and began to volunteer with a new community outreach organization that began here in Austin, Texas called Mobile Loaves & Fishes. Mobile Loaves & Fishes , The brainchild of Alan Graham, with the mission to provide food, clothing, and dignity to our brothers and sisters in need. They now accomplish this mission through the use of 12 catering trucks that go out onto the city streets of Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Providence, and Nashville every night of the week. Now with almost 10,000 volunteers, it started with the hard work of a few volunteers and a single supply truck.
I have helped on the make ready crew preparing food and as a truck driver since I first joined in 2000 and in the last few years have worked with a small crew of friends to deliver meals once a month.We have a good time together Our favorite stop is Wooldridge Park by the Austin Downtown Library. My company and my fellow truck crew members save up toiletry items, clothing and other things that that are needed. The irony is not lost on us that we all save bath items from our vacations and often hand out soap and shampoo from the Four Seasons - Bora Bora and other Luxury Hotels from across the globe and I even gave out samples from Plaza-Atheneein Paris but soap is soap no matter the source.
There is an online sign up for the volunteers to "reserve" a location and for awhile it got a bit competitive. I was on the phone complaining to one of my fellow volunteers about the fact that someone beat us to the punch on "our stop" and my wife gently teased me by saying, "Well now...you are upset because someone else got YOUR homeless people???" I reluctantly laughed and had to agree that was more than absurd wasn't it? Although we DO still compete and manage to get the library stop as often as possible...
I want to thank everyone who has made our efforts possible; Ruth Dore', volunteer coordinator, who patiently herds all of the volunteers on a daily basis, Tracy Rodenborn and Don Haynesof St. Michaels Academy who along with students have prepared the food for the last 3 years. Tracy just had a beautiful baby girl named Catherine so this is a shout out to her! I also want to thank my fellow friends and truck crew; Stephen & Debbie Machicek, A.J. Lindow and Liz Saieh. (Scroll over the pictures to see who's who)! I always enjoy our time together and look forward to going out with y'all every month!
I am not trying to change anyone's mind but think about it, times are hard for everyone these days and it never hurts to show some compassion, especially when you see the truth from a different perspective! Look around and see where you can help out, you will receive more than you ever give!
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