Two words that should never fit together in a sentence… Homeless and Children.
And yet, Thursday morning I found myself joining a group of folks from Footsteps Church making sack lunches for homeless LGBT youth. Kids who I’m told are on the streets largely because due to their sexual orientation, they’ve been rejected by their families.
Stations were set up around the room; one for making and bagging sandwiches, and other stations for adding carrots, apples, cookies and chips. And a card. Each bag contained a personalized card. This was the hardest part of all for me.
What sentiment makes a homeless Thanksgiving more palatable? I struggled to find something that rang of truth. I’m not warm and fuzzy nor am I Christian so all the “safe” things one says they don’t know what else to say didn’t work. I simply (and truthfully) wrote “you are loved” and hoped the words would help one kid hold on through another cold night alone.
The group was large enough that we completed our tasks quickly and packed up the hundred or so bags and headed off to the drop-in center. There, the teens trickled in; some alone, some in small groups of twos and threes.
The drop-in center provided a full Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night and the kids came back for left-overs Thursday. They were going to have to fend for themselves over the holiday weekend; most valley services were closed until Monday. Hence the bagged lunches. PB&Js don’t spoil.
I can’t pretend to know these kids. I can’t pretend I have one bit of understanding what it means to be without resources. I’ve never been without a bed or a meal. I’ve never had to resort to the sorts of things they’re forced to do for survival.
I could only see them through the lens of motherhood. They were so young, so defenseless, so cold. They looked hardened and wary but behind that all I saw were kids who needed someone to say “I love you.” That, a warm bed and the promise of regular meals.
Were there tables around the valley where these kids were missed? Were there moms out there stuffing tears and regrets along with their turkey? Dads who drove up and down the streets searching for their babies when they went out for the forgotten milk or butter? Or did those families take comfort in Leviticus?
It’s just November, it’s not yet really gotten cold here yet. What’s going to happen to these kids in thin jackets come January? They only have what they can carry. Last winter’s coat has long since been lost, stolen, repurposed or jettisoned for more useful gear.
Where will they get the next meal and the one after that? More long-term, where will they get job skills and education and all that they’ll need to become adults?
How many of them will survive to become adults? Sitting there I could only think that “it gets better” must sound hollow from where they are right now.
I was overwhelmed. It felt like such a small dent in such a crushing need — a sandwich and a hand-made card. I kept wondering if they’d eat the next day. I was angry. How could anyone deny their own child? I wished I could believe in God and leave with the comfort that all this… the kids, the cold, the hunger, the need… was in his all-knowing hands and somehow all of this… the kids, the cold, the hunger, the need… made perfect sense and figured into that perfect plan.
But, for Thursday, they were fed. For that period of time at the drop-in center, they were warm and safe. And today, for the folks running the drop-in shelter, it starts anew – providing food, comfort, advice and survival for as many of these kids as they can.
The drop-in center is moving to larger, easier to reach location. This one I understand will have showers and a washer and dryer.
The Footsteps Church group that put together Thursday’s operation is working to provide each of these kids with clean underwear and new shoes for Christmas. At that age, my kid wanted an Xbox.
If you’re moved to help, WWW.UCCSWC.ORG can use your donation. $40 will buy shoes and socks for a kid which, even in a Phoenix winter, can mean survival.