It’s hard to believe I’ve been a resident of Houston, Texas for nearly two years now. I always knew there was a large homeless population in the city of Houston, just as there is in Atlanta, where I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life. As with most major cities in the U.S., it is inevitable to come across quite a few homeless shelters in the downtown area.
What I never knew about was the few hundred homeless men and women who frequently spent their time near a small soup kitchen called “Loaves and Fishes“, by the bridge at Minute Maid Park. Aside from once a year on my birthday, I’ve also never taken the initiative to partake in making a direct difference that is independent of a large organization.
Of course, it is wonderful to help and donate to those who reside in the homeless shelters- there is always a need for more, and unfortuntely there is never enough. However, many of these large organizations have various existing sources of funding as well as volunteers who continue to help these organizations grow.
Today was the first time I experienced first-hand, just how powerful it can be to simply get a group of people together, find a venue with a high homeless population and just start helping them- regularly and in any way possible.
I heard about this event through a friend, and before I arrived I was under the assumption that this event was something that is part of a large organization, that I’d be one of many volunteers who were standing in line to feed the homeless at a local shelter.
Then, when I was asked to bring 150 individual size bags of chips for us to pack in little lunch bags, I started to realize that this may be a private gathering on somewhat of a smaller scale than I expected. I later found out that the owner of a Chinese buffet organizes these low-key gatherings every single month, and has been doing so for many, many years.
To prepare beforehand, about twenty people (including myself) met at the parking lot of the Kroger that is ten minutes away from where I live. We lined up about six shopping carts and filled each one with either apples, oranges, bananas, granola bars, muffins or chips. We also placed a cart at the beginning with empty shopping bags, and at the end where we placed the completed bags. Thus began the assembly line as we flowed like clockworks, ensuring every bag was filled with each of the food items.
This was only the beginning. We loaded the bags into several vans and carpooled over to another parking lot near Minute Maid Park. When we got there, there was already a line of homeless men and women forming near the parked cars, as they were not only expecting their monthly meal, but eagerly looking forward to it.
As the line grew longer in anticipation, we quickly set up a few picnic tables and loaded them with trays of warm Chinese food, water bottles and the snack bags we packed earlier. I assumed my position at the potato salad station, right after the rotisserie chicken, mixed vegetables and fried rice. Side note: as a holistic health nurse, my heart smiled with relief as I noticed they didn’t neglect to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in this generous process.
But my heart continued to smile and swell with love all morning as I greeted each person. Human connection, a friendly smile and respect can often be just as valuable as serving food and water. I couldn’t help but think of how each and every one of these people had their own life journey, their own past and struggles, hopes and dreams, their own families and friends, perhaps.
They were so polite and respectful, each person greeting me with “hello”, “thank you so much” and “God bless you”. So many blessings. They were truly so appreciative, their eyes reflecting gratitude and filled with simple joy as they filled their food trays, picked up their snack bags, and took a water bottle or few to go.
One man in particular who really stood out to me, took 4-5 water bottles and carefully placed them in his backpack, excitedly claiming that he’s going to drink so much water tonight at “his spot”. After seeing this, along with the fact that there were still a few more people left in line after we ran out of the final servings of food, I couldn’t keep my eyes from swelling as I shed a few tears in the name of love that solidified my plans to come do this as often and as frequently as I possibly can.
After noticing my smile grow larger with each person I served, one of the other volunteers made a powerful statement that really resonated with me:
“I do this because I am selfish; nothing else makes me quite this happy”.
And it’s true. The joy I get from giving is anything but altruistic…it is the joy it brings my heart and soothing it provides my soul to see them so happy, that drives my will to do this.
After we finished packing up and taking a few group pictures, I silently vowed to myself to do everything in my power to ensure I continue joining in this monthly endeavor and contribute as much as I can in any way possible. That is why I will be collecting funds and recruiting volunteers to help support this amazing group of people serving for such an amazing cause.
There are three main ways in which you may contribute:
1) Making A Donation.
100% of all proceeds will go directly towards purchasing food to serve to this group of people once a month.
2) Volunteering Your Time.
If you would like to join and help pack bags or serve meals, send me a message and I will send you the details.
3) Spreading The Word.
Every little bit helps, so your genuine efforts to share this cause and grow the love will also be greatly appreciated.
And of course, here are just a few of the pictures we were able to snag on our iPhones, of this tremendously heart-warming experience.