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Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Homeless Christmas, the Art of Giving and the Biggest Little Heart

Finn and Aleita at the shelter
This last November, Finn came to Cat and I and asked if she could do something for the homeless during the cold snap and holiday season. We said "Sure!" and set to work figuring out how to help her accomplish her mission. But she'd already given it some serious thought. She wanted to have a booth set up downtown for all the homeless to come by and get free hot chocolate or coffee. And she wanted me to dress up like Santa Claus, have each and every homeless person that came by sit in my lap, she'd take pictures of them and print off the picture and give it to them so they could smile and feel warm, if not outside, at least inside in their hearts. Cat and I were stunned at her thought process but I felt somewhat uncomfortable with the thought of grown men and women with whom I was unacquainted sitting on my lap (although I do have a pretty close person space, but somewhere between that and lap-sitting, I draw the line).

Regardless, we set about contacting people that might be able to help us get Finn's idea off the ground. We unexpectedly, and to our disappointment, ran into road block after road block...which only made us want even more to figure out how to make it a reality. Finally, after being put in touch with Aleita Hass-Holcombe, a wonderful lady that runs both a homeless shelter in town and the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition, the ideas started bubbling forth. We eventually settled on creating gift bags for each and every bed at Corvallis' largest homeless shelter, a men's shelter, and making extras for a local women's shelter.

Decorating gift bags

Finn and I went to numerous local businesses asking for help in donating items for her gift bags - socks, candy canes, fruit, cookies, etc. Given the rapidly approaching holiday, we weren't too surprised that most had already spent their December charity budget but the fine people at our local Fred Meyer asked us to come back in a day and they'd work something up for us. We returned the following day to find they'd donated a $50 gift card toward Finn's endeavor so we promptly purchased 56 pairs of socks - on sale, of course! - along with purchasing some paper lunch bags, candy canes, boxes of cookies and some fruit and giddily trolloped home with our loot. Upon arrival home, we learned from Cat that at least three generous people from our home church - Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship - had also come forth with small cash donations, fruit, cookies, socks and offers for help stuffing. Our cup runneth over!
"Lord wash over me" decorated bag

Finn, Cat and some other friends spent the better part of one evening artfully decorating each and every paper lunch bag, delighted with thoughts about how they would be received. At one point, I asked Finn what she was writing on a bag and she said, "Just a prayer". On the bag, she had written, "Lord Wosh Ovr Mey" (Lord, wash over me). I was astounded and so very proud of her. All I could do was get misty-eyed and give her the biggest hug. "Is that a tear of joy, Papa?" "It sure is, Finn. It sure is."

The Sunday before Christmas, we took all the goods with us to church to get an assembly line going for stuffing each bag. So many of our church family had donated socks, fruit, and some friends had even brought four dozen freshly baked cookies to stuff. Needless to say, with so many hands, the assembly line lasted all of ten minutes and everything was done, Finn watching over the whole process like a mini-general, happy as a peach blossom on a warm spring day.
Finn and some of her gift bag collection

The following day, Christmas Eve, we drove downtown and met Aleita at the men's shelter. We'd had discussions with Finn about homelessness before, explaining reasons why people might be without the loving home we have. She always drinks in these conversations, asking some questions but mostly processing them. Upon our arrival at the shelter, Aleita introduced herself to us and thanked Finn for thinking of the homeless and acting on her heart's desire.

She said she wanted Finn to know about each and every person and she showed us how they log in at night, where they put their stuff, and, as Finn or little Jeremiah placed a gift bag on each bed, shared something personal about each man (James likes artwork, Henry is a trumpet player, Will has three grown children, etc.). It was a very touching hour as we visited with her, learned a little something about each person and placed a lovingly-crafted gift bag on each bed.
Placing gift bags on the beds

Finn and LJ reading the sign-in sheet

As we were getting ready to leave, Finn and little Jeremiah noticed a new basketball near the front door and pointed it out. Aleita said she was glad Finn had reminded her about something. Someone had apparently let the men know that a six year old would be bringing a little gift by for each of them. One man, remembering that he'd liked basketball at that age, found a brand new basketball that had just been given to him, decided to gift the ball to Finn. She was beside herself! She couldn't believe someone who didn't know her would do something so loving. To which Cat and I looked at each other with a twinkle in our eyes, and said, "Why not? You just did something very loving for many people YOU didn't know?!"

Aleita giving them the basketball

What an amazing child. What a rich life.

"For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when I was thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was homeless, you gave me welcome." Matthew 25:35

1 comment:

Waterblogged said...

The basketball made my eyes run over!