Money is not the only way to assist.
We do need donations to buy food, water, blankets, and sleeping bags to share with people in need. But sometimes the most valuable thing you can give is your time.
The other night, one of the homeless men we were feeding downtown kept saying, “Thank you for taking your time to be here with us.” I explained that it is not a burden at all; it’s something we look forward to, and it’s time well spent. I think there can be no greater joy than helping others–especially people who can’t repay you.
“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
They not only appreciate our time, but also our friendship. We make it a point to learn their name and greet them with a handshake or hug while calling them by name. We look them in the eye and ask them how things are going; and then we listen.
You can volunteer behind the scenes to help us put together the snack packs and care packs that provide nutrition to our friends who are experiencing homelessness. Or you can volunteer out on the street with us.
Listening doesn’t cost you a cent, but it can be the most valuable gift you could ever give someone. You’ve probably had several acquaintances who will cut you off or change the subject when you try to share what’s on your heart, because they’re too preoccupied with their own issues to listen to yours. Then, once in a while, you run across someone who actually listens and seeks to understand instead of interrupting. It makes you feel so valuable. That’s one of the gifts we try to give the men and women downtown.
And when we listen, we try to share hope with them. It’s easy to lose hope when you’ve been living in a ragged, thin old sleeping bag and sleeping on the sidewalk for a few years.
We also share the gift of music. We picked up a good-quality digital piano on sale right before Christmas. It’s convenient that it can run on 6 “AA” batteries and is loud enough that about 30 of our homeless friends can hear it at the same time, even outdoors. Week after week we have seen our friends’ countenance brighten as they hear us play familiar songs. Sometimes they even join in and sing.
Kindness is free, too. It is also powerful. Above all, we share kindness with the people who need it most. Some of them have said that we are the closest thing they have to a family. As Gandhi said, “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”