This has been an interesting week, and I'm bit behind on my blogging. One reason for this is that my most interesting experiences didn't come with a tidy lesson attached. It's so much easier to tell a tale when there's a nice moral to the story. But when it came to my trip on Wednesday to bring food to a number of homeless people who are living in the woods along Route One, just outside of the community in which I live, I left with questions, not answers. Here's a few scenes from that trip:
One man we encountered is living in a small patch of woods near a highway on-ramp. He's living out there all alone, without a tent, and has been in his current location for some time. Years, maybe. He's a skinny guy, probably in his 40's, but who knows. He sits in a folding chair, or lies on an old mattress underneath a pile of blankets. Ann said that he's delusional at times, so its best for one person to approach him instead of our whole group of five. On Wednesday, he was in a sociable mood, and came out to my car to talk. He was wearing a pair of sturdy-looking rain pants, something he had received from a volunteer earlier in the week. He was clearly pleased, and was happy as well to accept a single bag of food. When we tried to give him a loaf of bread as well, he declined. "Oh, that will probably spoil, and I hate to waste food." The rest of our conversation focused on the make and model of my mini-van. He suggested I could jack up the back and swap my tires for jeep tires, and then I'd have a dune buggy. That made my son Paul laugh, and then the woods guy laughed too.
Another man we encountered was living in the woods near a racetrack, where it turned out there was a small community of campers who had been in long-term residence out there, some for as long as six years. He came out to talk with us when he heard us coming, but didn't want us walking back to his tent. He was in his 30's, I'd guess, and pretty fit-looking. He said recent storms had washed three of his four sleeping bags away, and "just about all" of his clothes. He had heard that another camp nearby had received a propane heater from a volunteer recently. He was curious--was the same offer extended to him? All he needed was candles, but.... "How can I repay you guys?" he asked. "Do you have a house to paint? A church that needs siding?" He certainly looked capable of the work he suggested. "You know how you can repay us?" another volunteer responded, "Give a hand to the next person you meet who's in need." We gave the man five bags of food and a loaf of bread and left with a pretty big shopping list. It probably won't be that hard to fill, though, because 19 churches are now a part of the Route One outreach program.
As we drove from place to place, one volunteer struck up a conversation with my son Paul. Turns out he was well familiar with Paul's middle school--he is a homework mentor for a sixth-grader Paul knows. He explained that the mentoring project there had been started by a group of local congregations, but it never had received a lot of support and now he and another volunteer were overseeing it. They had about 14 mentors at the school this year, each working with a kid referred to them by the guidance counselor. Smart kids, he explained, but they don't get much support at home for completing their homework, so their grades suffer. The hard thing, he explained, is knowing that there are over 100 kids on the referral list, and they can only serve 14.
What a world we live in. Even here, in the third richest county in the entire country, there are so many needs. All you have to do is open your eyes for an afternoon, and by the time you go to bed, your head is spinning. Where to start? Where to focus? Where to rally the church?