I find myself looking into a pair of big round eyes. They belong to a boy I guess to be two years old, not much older than my baby at home. He smiles at me a no hold barred kind of smile and waves a small dirty blanket at me, a treasured prize. My eyes travel down his little body, he is shirtless and wearing pajama bottoms that are about 2 sizes too big on him. His body is filthy. I smile at him, and compliment him on his blanket and he grins back. In that moment, I am undone, and I know I will never be the same.
I have been working with our church to put together hampers for underprivileged families in our community for the last three years. It was part of bible school project that I led the first time, it was a gong show the first Christmas, the senior pastor and I have big hearts for these families and wanted to knock their socks off with the best hampers ever. We had ordered large white boxes and put red bows on the top. A gift, to show them someone cares. We quickly realized our mistake, as each box weighed about 75 pound. It was a logistical nightmare, but we did it, lesson learned. We have moved on to reusable grocery bags. I have stayed on the food project since then, taking care of the food ordering, and assembly day. When I have been asked if I would deliver some, I have always opted out. I felt like I had done enough, and a part of me was scared to look into the faces receiving these gifts.
I grew up poor and had even lived in a couple of the neighborhoods we were delivering to. I had no desire to revisit that part of my life and felt my food organization for these hampers was enough. Then last night as we were wrapping up I was asked again if I would do some deliveries. There were so many hampers, I felt compelled to say yes. I grabbed a sheet of addresses to the roughest neighborhood and my friend came along with me.
The first few deliveries were a bit dodgy. The neighborhood was like stepping off the map, it was hard to imagine children live here. The first home looked like something from hoarders and we were told to honk our horn out front and someone would come out to meet us. A young man greeted us, eyes turned down and he said a soft thank you. The second house had nobody home, there were dogs barking and about four kittens roaming around. I cautiously walked up and peered in the window. The house had no furniture, which at first led me to believe it was vacated then my eyes went to the corner of the room. Among stray garbage on the floor there was a child’s play mat and toys in the corner. I remembered, we are here because of the kids. We have been working with these inner city schools to put us in contact with these families in need. I knocked on the door and heard a loud bark, that was it for me I high tailed it before Cujo could get me. A nice neighbor took the hamper from us promising to give it to the family.
The third, a man was out front, he saw us and came to get his hamper, I could smell the drugs on his breath and reminded myself this is for the kids.
The fourth home I was greeted by a warm women. In her driveway a minivan with a stick figure family on the back window and a Jesus loves you sticker. The woman did not speak english, but her sweet little girls did. They thanked us profusely for the food and invited us in. I waved it off, I could feel myself coming a little undone, after seeing the last couple houses I cannot imagine these sweet little girls growing up here. We left them their bags and said our good byes, as we stepped off the porch I could hear the little girl shouting to her sister there is candy in here!!! They were both jumping up and down with excitement. That little girl has been tucked into my heart, and I thought of her often as I struggled to find sleep last night.
Our last delivery.
We pull up to what appears to be a dead-end, but looking past the road construction we see a couple of houses, we pull in front of the address. My friend and I grab our bags to take to the house, we climb a rickety steep stair case, which I was afraid would collapse under our feet at any minute. There is a note on the door saying to knock on the window. A women tells us to head to the back of the house. As we make our way around I am trying not to look at all the piles of garbage, dirt, and old cars. In my head, I am seeing tomorrows headlines. “Two young do gooders met their demise during a hamper delivery gone bad” I assure you there is no drama in this statement. We are greeted by a young women, that life has taken it’s toll on. Although we just spoke to her thirty minutes ago, she does not know why we are here. We run back to the car to grab the name, it is her daughter we are here for. I can tell she is on drugs. We bring her bags to her and that is when I am greeted by that sweet little boy. I want to take him home, give him a bath and a clean pair of clothes. I want to tell him God loves him and has a good plan for his life. As he grins at me waving his tattered filthy blankie, I am undone. I know why I have avoided these deliveries and feel a bit ashamed for not coming out anyways. Not getting over myself. As we walk away, the mom says “Thanks, this is good timing, supplies have been getting low”. Thank you Jesus that we can do this. I imagine that little boy discovering the bag of marshmallows we tucked in there and munching on them later tonight, getting his dirty, beloved blanket a little stickier.
On the drive home my friend and I talking about the night. She wonders how these kids will have a chance. I tell her I did not come from much better, although, seeing some of these homes, I feel blessed that I did come from a little better. She asked how I did it. I told her I hated being poor, and promised myself at a very young age, when I had control of my life, I would live differently. I know how easily that could have been me, I could have been that mom, nobody expected more for me.
It’s eleven p.m., despite the giant glass of wine I poured when I got home, sleep is eluding me. Memories of those kids are haunting my mind. Tears are falling on my pillow in regular rhythm. I am asking God, “What can I do? It doesn’t seem enough. There has to be more for these kids. There has to be a better chance”. I know that hampers will make a difference for these children, but images of empty rooms, filthy houses, and big brown eyes are filling my mind. I pray for that little boy. I pray for those sweet little girls.
I am thankful for the years I have been able to be a part of the Relate Church Community Care team. I am thankful for the hundreds of hampers that we have been able to deliver. I am really thankful for the five hampers I delivered last night that opened my eyes and broke my heart.