The days before Thanksgiving always find me in the same place – a parking lot. I’m not panhandling or trying to find my car. I’m directing traffic.
Years ago I got involved with a local charity, Metropolitan Ministries, that helps homeless families stabilize their lives and achieve self-sustainability. We also provide food for low-income families during the holidays and toys at Christmas.
This season we expect to provide food for 18,000 people and toys for 22,000 children.
That means a lot of cars.
A local developer allows us to put our tent, the size of a football field, on an undeveloped plot of land. The parking area is uneven grass, so when it rains, parts of it turn into a muddy mess. Throughout each day, thousands of clients come through our gate, along with hundreds of volunteers and donors.
Needless to say, getting everyone to the right place – without incident – can be a challenge.
The simple act of directing hundreds of vehicles can be difficult enough, and while most get where they need to be with ease, there are always exceptions.
Some people can’t follow directions. Others have dead batteries. A few end up stuck in the mud. When that happens, I gather a few volunteers and we push. At least one day each season, I come home covered in mud.
I’ve been doing this for a number of years, so now I’m one of the lead “parking guys.” For hours on end, I talk to everyone who comes through the gate, deciding where they go.
I’m thankful that I get the opportunity to give back to my community, but it’s more than that. I get the chance to be part of someone’s solution, and I learn a lot about people along the way.
People show up in everything from shiny, new SUV’s with 22” rims, to broke-down minivans held together with bungee cords and duct tape. A few walk, even though we are far from most housing and not on a bus route.
I long ago gave up guessing about the people that come through the gate, because this describes our donors and volunteers as well as our clients.
Many times I’ve watched a car barely make it through the gate, greeted a scruffy driver that I thought was another client, only to find out that he wanted to know where he could drop off his donation of canned goods.
For several years, a gentleman from the low-income housing projects nearby would walk over the bridge and work with me in the parking lot all day on the weekends.
These people weren’t living a life of luxury, and yet they felt it necessary to share their modest bounty or limited time with others who, while they are employed, could use a hand. They did not cause any of the problems that our clients encounter. Still, they’re working to be part of the solution.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that in a small way I can help provide a solution to some working families in our community that are in need, and I’m thankful that I live in a country where providing a hand up, instead of a hand out, is a time-honored tradition that goes back centuries.
May we all honor that tradition in our own ways, and strengthen our communities by becoming part of a solution.
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