The following day, I woke up wanting to curse because of God’s curse on Eve. After spending the morning chasing preschoolers and then walking four miles with my faithful and amazing exercise buddy and co-worker Jennifer (who has three children and a husband and teaches preschool and volunteers at her son’s school and teaches Sunday school but still has energy leftover to charge up steep hills while carrying on a full conversation), I was exhausted.
By the time we went over to our pastor Steve’s house (he hates being called “pastor”- our church believes in plurality of elders and he is a “teaching elder”- but it sounds so strange to say “teaching elder” in a story) to assemble paper bags with the youth group to hand out to the homeless, I was in the same frame of mind as Albert Finney’s Scrooge. I was very disconcerted that we were running behind schedule in assembling the bags. Not because, as I told Pete privately, “It is rude for us to be late meeting up with the kids from the college”, but because I wanted to go to bed. So I sped things up by setting up stations - one teenager filling bags with water bottles, the next with peanut butter sandwiches, the next with cookies, etc. Actually, all that was accomplished was organized chaos, with thirty paper bags having just water bottles but no sandwiches, some bags with two sandwiches, and some sandwiches in plastic bags because we “ran out” of paper bags.
We left for downtown about 15 minutes behind schedule, and met at corner of 16th and Island. The enthusiasm of the teens, who had brought along their parents, younger siblings, friends, and friends parents, to serve the homeless, was slightly convicted. Especially the enthusiasm of Alex, who claims to not be a believer but was partly responsible for us being there because of his persistant question over the last year, “So when is our youth group going to feed the homeless?” Steve gave us instructions to go in groups, make sure no girls especially walked alone, and to not just pass out sandwiches but to really talk to people and share Christ’s love with them. I felt more conviction, but ignored it.
The number of homeless people struck me. Eleven years ago, when our college’s homeless ministry team came down to this same area, there were half as many people, or even less. And I didn’t remember there being so many women. The smell of urine, feces, and alcohol was strong.
The first man we asked, “Do you want some food?” replied, “No, no food – got any clothes?” He was wearing a rather nice jacket and designer looking jeans. He looks better dressed than Pete! The gall! I fumed.
We passed out bags very quickly, most people grateful to get something to eat. But one man, standing next to his girlfriend and their two shopping carts, asked “Are they peanut butter sandwiches? I don’t want NO peanut butter!” he said angrily. What do you want, T-bone steak and shrimp? Your homeless! I fumed more. I said in my fake sweetest voice, ‘But they have homemade marmalade on them!” The man yelled back, “No! You guys always come down here with peanut butter! I want something good…” His girlfriend interrupted, “Homemade marmalade! He’s just crazy. I’ll take his.”
We passed out almost one hundred and fifty bags walking around two city blocks. Having run out of food, we began passing out water bottles. We were almost out of water bottles when we came to clean, nicely dressed middle age woman and her son, who looked like an eight year old version of Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith show. I’ve read about homeless kids before, and even seen a few, but never on 16th and Island! They don’t belong here!