About a month ago my seven-year-old started asking a lot of questions about the homeless and panhandlers she sees at many off ramps and medians in town.
Why are they there? Where do they sleep? Are they cold? Do you think they are hungry?
It’s easy to place judgment—especially in a city where the homeless population seems to be growing exponentially. The media highlights homeless camps and the potential threats to homes and businesses that are near these camps. Community organizations stage clean-up days, hauling away dumpsters full of trash. And, stakeholders meet during community forums to discuss possible solutions to this problem.
Making an Impact
But from the eyes of a seven-year-old the solution looks different.
“I’d like to feed them,” she states one evening as we drive past a couple standing on a corner. “His sign says ‘Hungry.’ We should make them a sack lunch.”
For three days, my daughter reminded us that we were going to make lunches for the homeless that weekend. When Saturday rolled around, she reminded us again. This time, she had a menu planned out, too.
After a quick trip to the grocery, we’d settled on a sack lunch of granola bars, a PB&J, chips, string cheese, an apple, carrots, and water. She packaged them up meticulously and waited for us to load up the car and head out.
We’d thought it would be pretty easy to hand out 20 sack lunches, but it took a decent amount of time to find people to give these lunches to. Maybe the weather? Because it was a Saturday? Whatever the reason, we drove on.
Are you Hungry?
Eventually we saw a man with “Anything helps” written on some cardboard. I rolled down my window and asked if he was hungry. He said yes and we handed him a sack full of food and water. With surprise in his eyes, he welled up with tears. He thanked us as the light turned green and we drove away. My daughter beamed.
We came upon a park, where several groups and individuals were hanging out. “I bet they are hungry,” my daughter said. So, we parked the car and walked through the park handing out lunches. We were thanked by every person we met. A couple of folks declined our offer, but still thanked us and smiled.
This experience was humbling for me.
I love my daughter’s compassion, determination, and persistence to do good. I’ll be honest, spending a weekend day making sack lunches and distributing them to the homeless wasn’t at the top of my priority list. But for her, it was a mission. From the eyes of a child, this is how she could solve a problem and make a difference.
We learned that it wasn’t easy to tell who was homeless.
This made me realize how much judgment I’m placing on people—solely based on appearances. In one glance, we often decide the type of person we are looking at. In the beginning, there was a twinge of fear as we approached individuals, but not one person was scary or rude.
I’m so proud of my kids and their lack of judgment towards others. At one point, after handing a sack to a man who was fixing his bike, my son said “He didn’t have any fingers. I bet it’s hard for him to fix his bike.” He wasn’t afraid, he didn’t mention this man’s dirty clothes or unkempt hair. He felt empathy towards him, simply noting the difficulty he might encounter completing an ordinary task.
After distributing lunches, I know my kids were keenly aware of the conditions that others live in. I wish I could tell you that they carry this awareness in all they do these days. This just isn’t the case. But I do believe this activity taught them a lesson in kindness. And it taught me that children often exhibit more compassion and empathy than we do.
I’m so glad my daughter pushed us to do this. Her selflessness has caused a shift in my biases. And now, I am committed more than ever to look past judgment and to see others though the eyes of my children.