My companion teacher in seminary has had a lot on her plate this month, so I offered to come up with a Christmas activity for this morning's class. We typically have fun activities on Fridays, but I wanted to do something special for our last class before Christmas. Before I explain what we did, I should explain what led me to do this activity.
I have had two brothers in law who have been homeless at times. They have stayed with us for short periods of time, but we couldn't keep them full time. Both of them are on disability, but in both cases, they chose to live on the streets rather than spend their money for rent. One of them did live with another family for a time. Those people were drug addicts. When I drive down near the freeway, I see them out begging. I know that if I give money to them, it will probably go to drugs. I just can't bring myself to do that. In my religion, we do believe that we should help people who are in need. The Book of Mormon specifically teaches that we shouldn't judge a person and say that they deserve it because they put themselves in that situation. But I still can't bring myself to give money to beggars because I really believe that in most cases it will go to buy drugs or alcohol. I might not believe that quite so strongly if I didn't personally know the beggars in my city, and know they are drug addicts.
So I have been struggling with wondering what I should do instead of giving them money. I have been thinking for quite some time that I would like to give to food kitchens or homeless shelters. So with that in mind, I decided that a good Christmas project for my seminary students would be to make some treat bags to give to the soup kitchen to be handed out. I know this small act won't really change their situation, but I just hoped that they would feel a little bit of Christmas cheer as they received them.
I went down to the kitchen and talked with them about what could be included, and asked lot of questions about the kitchen. I was really shocked to learn how they get their food. We have a "food bank" here in our city, to which we can contribute food. They often have barrels set up at the door way of different grocery stores where people can put food they would like to donate. When I asked the kitchen supervisor about where he got the food, he explained that their foundation buys it from the food bank. Buys it? I told him that I thought the food kitchens would get it for free! He explained that the food bank has to pay for the buildings they use and for the salaries of people who cook the food. I think I'm so used to being in a church that has a lay ministry, I forget about administration costs and such. But it still irks me that they charge for the free food we donate.
So today I had my students make up goodie bags that included the following:
one candy cane
some peanuts (in the shell)
a butterscotch brownie.
The kids decorated white lunch bags, and after they were full they folded over the top, punched holes, and tied them with a ribbon. They turned out really cute. One girl even dropped by my house later and donated her leftover halloween candy. The people who work at the kitchen were looking through the candy and I could hear them oohing and ahhing over what was there. :)
What I would really like to do is watch for other deals, and bring more things for them in the future. Typically they feed 120 people every day at 11:00 a.m. I miscounted on some ingredients and we were only able to put together 111, but I did have about a dozen leftover brownies and the halloween candy. I told them to hand that out to those who didn't get a sack. They said that one day someone came in and gave out socks. That may not sound like much, but when you multiply the cost of one sock by 120 people, it adds up. So my goal for the future is to find other things that I can donate, or to rally others to help donate with me. I can't bring myself to hand money to those who I think will misuse it, but I am happy to find other ways to give!