Last weekend, Scott and I took the kids to help our community’s Good Samaritan program, distributing food, clothing, gifts and Christmas trees to needy families. When we arrived for our shift, the line of people waiting for basic necessities circled the inside perimeter of the large warehouse where tables and tables of donated clothing and other basics were being provided. As time progressed, it became evident that there were far more needy individuals than there were donations (and there were MANY donations). It was heartbreaking and so very overwhelming to see the hope diminish on the faces of those at the end of the line for whom there were no coats left, no ham, no thick warm socks. Many, many needs WERE met that day. It was incredible. Yet there was even more need!
Soon our kids began to clue in to what was happening. My daughter looked at me and said, “Mom. All those people are wanting this stuff and it’s running out!” The look on her face isn’t one I see very often. She was truly stressed out about the people who would walk away empty-handed and I could see the wheels in her mind working for some solution. “I just want to go out and buy a bunch of food and give it to them from us.”
I felt the same way. But as I looked at the hundreds of people standing in line, I knew the need was too great to solve on our own. Our hearts were heavy and the staff of volunteers began to pick and choose a few specific needs we could help with. One mother had a child in wet clothes and nothing dry to change him into… so we frantically searched through what was left of the clothes for 2T pants and a warm shirt. One little girl walked up to me and asked if there was anything in her size. My daughter joined me in searching through the remains of donated clothing for a nice shirt and matching skirt this beautiful child might be able to wear for Christmas.
My son, who is twelve, was quieter about his dismay at the situation. But he was well-aware of how blessed he was to have clean, warm clothes and a full stomach this winter. Pretty soon we could see that we had done all we could and we started wrapping up our shift… when we heard a little girl’s sobs cutting through the heavy atmosphere. She was calling out in desperation to anyone who would listen: “Has anyone seen a pink coat?? Hey!! Has anyone seen my pink coat…please!!!” Her mom tried to console her as she sobbed. We bee-lined for her to see what happened. And, yes, the worst had happened. This child had received a pink coat (which she loved) and it was stolen right out from under her! This made my kids mad. We all looked everywhere we knew to look for a pink coat but it was nowhere to be found.
We left. All the needy families dispersed. And it hit me just how unjust and harsh this world can be. We walked into our warm home with the distinct realization that hundreds of people in our town wouldn’t be able to get warm today and wouldn’t have the benefit of a hearty meal. I became acutely aware of the plethora of coats in our closet that we aren’t using and realized how many just needed some light mending before they would make an incredible gift for some kids who needed warmth in every way.
Every year, I hear about coat drives, toy drives, shoe drives and food drives. Sometimes I remember to go through our closets, wash whatever items we can offer and get them into the hands of those who can use them. But I’m embarrassed to admit all the other times when I have forgotten… or, worse, thought maybe the other donations would be enough. But after looking into one little girl’s tear-stained face and hearing her breaking heart spill all over that warehouse as she mourned the loss of her only coat? We will not forget again. Of that, you can be sure. One pink coat was all she needed. One dry outfit was all that wet toddler needed. One ham would’ve fed that family of five standing in the line. Every ONE of us really can make things different for someone. And when you’re looking them in the eye, you never forget just how small that donation seems in comparison with the fulfillment of a genuine need.