When embarking upon this journey across America on foot, it was reasonable to believe that we would see and experience a lot, both good and bad. We have done just that, and when you think about it in the grand scheme of things, we are just getting started.
This walk has allowed us to look around, and we do just that, with a purpose. As we walk, we look at the businesses in each town up close. We look in the windows. Many of them are simply out of business. We look at the homes and yards as we walk through residential areas. We look at the people, the kids, and quite frankly the junk and squalor that is laying around. It has truly been an eye opener.
The one thing that truly stands out is the amount of poverty that exists in our country. I’m a numbers guy, so I know that we have only walked approximately 600 miles or so, and have made our way through only a few dozen of the thousands of towns in America. However, it is also apparent, that the similarity in the 36 or so towns is too great to be considered a coincidence.
Town after town seem to be forgotten, or using the old political line, left behind. There are boarded up store fronts, depressed areas, homes that look like they have been abandoned (but haven’t), and jobless/homeless people, almost too many to count. In a word, it’s sad. I could offer my opinion on why this is so, but really, what do I know? What do any of us know? There are so many factors, so many forces at work. Yes, we could demand more from our politicians to come up with solutions, and we should. But then again, what do they do right? But let’s not go there, let’s talk about what we could do as American citizens who have hearts.
Stop for a minute and look in your closet. Do you have more clothes than you will ever need or use? I know I do. Take a moment to think about those out in the streets that have nothing for themselves or their children. Then stop and look in your pantry or cupboards. When you get hungry, it is so simple to grab something to eat and in many cases, be able to choose from five or ten different snacks, right? Then think of those who have no idea where their next morsel of food is going to come from.
Now, tell me the last time you felt thankful and blessed to have an ample supply of food (other than Thanksgiving), running water, or even a roof over your head. The point is, in our busy hectic lives, we take a lot for granted. Sure, anyone who has those things has worked hard for them and most likely has earned them. People shouldn’t feel guilty about it, just fortunate and grateful.
Now think of what it would be like to live without those things. Imagine looking your kids in the eye when they are hungry, and telling them there is no food. Or when they are cold and telling them there is no heat or extra clothes or blankets. I’m telling you poverty is running rampant in this country. It’s more widespread than you can imagine. The question then becomes, what can we do about it? I say, do something from the heart, for the heart. Let me explain.
As Thanksgiving drew closer, Kate and I knowing that we would be away from our family for the first time, talked about what we were going to do for the holiday. It was a strange feeling for sure, and a bit sad. She quickly came up with the idea to locate a food bank or homeless shelter where we could volunteer our time. Her parents did this often in the city of Detroit, and certainly, there must be one of these types of places in the small 5,000-person town of Holbrook, Arizona. That proved to be the case.
Earlier that week we were curious where the road outside our RV park went. We are always looking for a better walking route and do a lot of scouting in our car prior to the next day’s walk. Wouldn’t you know it, no more than a half mile down that road was the Bread of Life Mission. We immediately stopped in and asked if we could volunteer to serve meals on Thanksgiving to those in need. The answer we received was an enthusiastic yes.
The next day, we had the idea (I’ll take credit for this one) to see if they needed anything for the meal. Kate stopped into the mission, and was surprised to find out that they didn’t have some of the standard Thanksgiving meal fixings, gravy is one example. They also didn’t have pumpkin pie or soft drinks. What is Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Kate took the list and went to shop at the local grocery store. She acquired a store discount card to get the best bang for the buck. We did have a budget after all.
We arrived at the Mission early on Thanksgiving morning to help set up and were greeted by warm and friendly faces. This includes the staff working there, and the folks that either call the place home or were there simply for a good home cooked meal, something they rarely get. Everyone was thankful that we came to help. It really was an amazing feeling.
The meal was a success. There was plenty of food, and even some leftovers to serve for dinner that night. Hunger doesn’t stop with one Thanksgiving meal. This mission provides meals any time during the day, 365 days a year, and even delivers to folks who don’t have the ability or means to get to their building. Other than the deliveries, their rule is come when you want and eat, you just have to eat here.
I took this for granted initially, then thought about what is involved to continually feed dozens of people each day. They need food of course, appliances, kitchen utensils, someone to cook and someone to clean up. Obviously, they also need funding. It’s not magic. Behind the scenes there are so many people doing a lot of great work to make sure underprivileged folks can get a nutritious meal. It is amazing when you really think about how it all comes together.
As I said, the Mission does great work and provides all types of support and services. I must honestly say, we were humbled and touched. So much so, that above and beyond the groceries we bought and the time we spent helping, we made a monetary donation to help with other needs they may have. I’m not looking for an at a boy, or a medal, but simply conveying the warm feeling you get when you help others.
I have spent many of my years on this earth taking for granted all that my family has had. Sure, we struggled at times. When we were just starting out money was tight, and we were trying to raise a family. However, when you look at those without, whether it be food, shelter, or clothing, it wasn’t a struggle at all. After all, we still had shelter, enough clothes to be somewhat fashionable and warm, and enough food to prevent ever thinking of going hungry.
At the end of the day, it takes money and people to make a place like the Mission function. The Executive Director of the Mission told me that some of their funding has been appropriated to areas with larger populations (primarily Phoenix). In some ways that makes sense, however, it leaves so many others in the cold, literally, who live in rural towns across the state, and who are attempting to serve those in need in their own communities. Poverty isn’t just in the metropolitan areas after all, as I said, it is everywhere, in every state.
Places like the Bread of Life Mission exist in our own home towns. You may not realize it at first. You, like myself, probably drove past some of these places everyday to and from work. When you peel back the onion, you will find that there are good people either working for peanuts or volunteering at these types of places to help others in need, right in your own backyards. Perhaps, those good people are some of your friends or neighbors. The key is, when you see one of these places, stop in and ask what you can do to help. They won’t be shy. Get involved and help.
To go along with that last thought, here’s my idea; there are approximately 350,000,000 people in this country. Let’s say that 35,000,000 people have the capacity, both physically and financially to help. That’s only 10% of the population. What if every one of those 35,000.000 did what I suggested above and stopped in and asked what they could do to help, and not just on Thanksgiving, but throughout the year? Imagine what could be done. I’ve added some ideas of how to help below.
Here is what is currently happening. Some people do nothing. They live their lives and spend their money, heck they earned it. They buy more clothes than they need, and shower their kids (guilty) and grand kids with tons of “things”. I think spoiled is the word. All is good, for them. Of the people that can help, some do what I am suggesting above. Others go online and get their credit card out and donate to the organization of their choice. There is no wrong answer, it is individual preference, I just ask to think about where your money is going and what good it is doing. In other words, how much of your donation is actually getting to those who need it?
If you want to have the greatest impact, the first thing I would recommend is to determine what it is you can give. This includes both time and money. Secondly, determine where you want your money to go. My personal preference is to give within our own local communities, to the organizations that do the most good, like the one I described above. Sure, the larger national or international organizations do some good work, but if you take a moment to look at their annual report, you might find that a good portion of their spending goes to high administrative and promotional costs as well as salaries for the executives that can be extravagant. I myself shy away from those.
What I am asking you to do, is to stop and think about all of this for a moment. Think about what it would be like to be hungry 24/7. Think about all the children who have nothing, no food, little clothing or toys, and perhaps no shelter. Then think if it is something you can turn your back to. We couldn’t, whether it be a kid, a homeless older person, or even a stray puppy. All of god’s creatures need a little help now and then, and we have the ability right now to do just that. We just happened to see it right in front of our own eyes. That is what truly makes the most impact on a good-natured heart. When you see it firsthand, you immediately want to help. It doesn’t have to be that way however. We can be proactive!
If you do decide to follow my advice, I promise you one thing, you won’t regret it. Helping others in need is one of the best feelings a human can experience, and the Thanksgiving meal is one experience that we will never forget. We will do our best to continue to help when and where we can as we continue this walk, and will pass this message on to as many people as possible.
I have one more request, please share any additional ideas that can be added to the ones below, so this forum can be a resource for all. Lastly, if you feel so inclined, share your own personal story of giving. We would love to experience them with you.
Ways to help:
- Go to your local retailer after any holiday and buy their sale items (food items, clothing, etc.) that are often 70 to 90% off. Then take them right over to your local shelter/church/mission.
- Buy grocery store gift cards to donate. The shelters can use them for what they need.
- Buy the 10 for $10 sales that you see in many grocery stores these days and donate them.
- Find gently used items around your home and bring donate them.
- Volunteer your time. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and who knows, you may have a skillset that is in need. It also may be a menial task that provides a ton of help. Find the time.
- Talk to others and do some of this stuff as a group. It may add some fun to the gratification you will receive by helping others in need.
- Google is a great resource to find places near you that provide the types of assistance mentioned above.
- Monetary donations are always welcomed. $10, $20, $50, $100, whatever you can afford to give.