My stomach was in knots as I made the now familiar drive to the park. The fears shared by family members raced through my head as we got closer and closer. The arguments that I had shared with them, “No place is safe anymore, people get shot and hurt in schools, churches and malls.”, also went through my mind.
I took a few deep breaths and thought about the faces of those we would serve today. I thought of the interactions that my children would have with them and the smiles that my children would bring. “The kids make me so happy. They remind me of a time before I screwed up my life.” This was important work we were a part of. We were not only passing out lunches but giving out hope, love and kindness to these people who desperately need it.
As we pulled in, the small crew of volunteers and the regular early birds were already assembled. The knots started to unloosen as I reminded the kids to stay close and stay aware of their surroundings. My son is 12, so this is easier for him to do. My daughter, who is 9, is a bit of a free spirit and a day dreamer. For her, it is important to keep a close eye on her and give her gentle reminders.
The leader of our group said a prayer before the lunches were distributed. He marveled at the beauty of God’s work here in the park every Friday. It IS something to marvel, the community of love and gratitude is unlike anything I have experienced before. Whether you are Christian or not, it does not matter. There is a bigger force than all of us present in the park on Fridays. The countless volunteers who make the lunches, the volunteers who show up every Friday no matter the weather to distribute them and the people being blessed by this action. There are smiles, laughter, hugs and so many “Thank You’s”.
My daughter had brought boxes of candy hearts to pass out with the lunches. As people moved through the line she handed them a box and wished them a “Happy Valentine’s Day!” This sweet gesture brought so many smiles and melted so many hearts on a frigid 17 degree day. “You made my day child, God Bless you.” one woman said. This is why we come to the park.
Yes there are people strung out on drugs in the park, yes there are homeless people fighting for their lives in the park but at the end of the day we are all human. We all need food, water, shelter and someone to care about us. Fridays in the park provide food, water and a little hope and love.
I know the next time that I drive to the park with my two children in the back seat, my stomach will once again be in knots. I know that even if we go 100 times, it will still make me nervous as the fears of all of my family and society creep into my head. I also know that this experience is good for all three of us. We have learned so much about the homeless epidemic in this country. My children have seen the shelters first hand and understand that it doesn’t take much to end up this way. My cousin died of a drug overdose, while homeless in a park, and he came from a family with money and love. I want my children to see what life was like for him and the countless others who share this struggle. It is good for us to connect with people, be part of a community and share the blessings we have been given with others. We will keep showing up to the park, keep showing up to let the people there know that we care.