Friday, December 23, 2005

No Room at the Inn

I stayed up until 3am last night finishing the last of my Christmas project. I felt glad to have 6 sets of warmth to give to the folks at the Shelter House for whoever might need them the most. When I finally got around to tying them up with colorful holiday ribbons, they looked like little bundles of accomplishments.
(Sorry, I was too disorganized to take a photo.)

When I called ahead to the Shelter to ask about a convenient time to stop by, I got a frantic worker on the phone. He assured me that any time was fine, but he didn’t seem too enthused about my interruption. I empathized with his attitude. I remembered what it was like when I worked at a place like that. Sometimes well-meaning people didn’t realize that that they were accidentally stealing precious time and energy from already over-worked employees.

The Shelter House is a huge old house near the University, a few blocks from downtown Iowa City. I didn’t arrive until evening, but it was still fairly early. Already, the crowd of shelter-seekers had spilled out onto the porch. As I carried my overflowing giftbag through the group outside, it suddenly felt very small. Several people greeted me, and I heard another excited voice say, "Look, she has Christmas presents." I wished then that they were invisible because there weren’t nearly enough.

When I got inside the crowded foyer, some other gentlemen helped me find the staff office. Jake and Abby were inside. They each looked to be about 22 or 23 years old. Maybe that’s how old you have to be to do that job. Abby offered me cookies, and Jake acted a lot more excited about my gifts than he had on the phone. I fought the urge to apologize for not having done more . . . like a check for a billion dollars, create widespread community support, or legislation to give people access to physical & mental health services, medicine, vocational training, and affordable housing. But, there I stood with my silly bag of mittens and hats . . . and they acted genuinely appreciative.

I quickly changed the subject and asked about how the Shelter was doing. They said they were well beyond over-flow capacity, however, they were hopeful because the weather had finally improved. At least the people they turn away tonight won’t be suffering in sub-zero temperatures. We talked about how much we need another shelter in our city. It’s difficult to make such a thing happen because of a variety of obstacles, sometimes the least of which is money.

As I walked out, I shared Christmas greetings with another dozen people. As I did, it was impossible to stop myself from wondering which of them would be sleeping in a bed tonight and which would be sleeping under the bridge or in a doorway. I was crying before I walked the ½ block back to my car.

How do you look a man in the eye, knowing you have the power to make a difference, but do nothing? How do you look a dozen men in the eye, go back home to your warm, comfortable house and knit mittens?

I have the power to do more. It's about damn time that I act like it.


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MERRY CHRISTMAS
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16 Comments:

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Theresa! I'm so proud of you and your work. You inspire me to be the best that I can be. It is the simple acts of kindness that make difficult times bearable. We Love You!

Love,
Mark and NCHortStud

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Dick the Boomer said...

Your "silly bag of mittens and hats" is more than I've done. I'm sure they WERE genuinely appreciative. You have a good heart Theresa. I wish you the very best for Christmas.

 
At 11:53 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

Theresa.. you did what you could, and like Dick said, more than any of us.

You are an incredibly generous, caring and beautiful person, and the world would be a much better place with more people like you in it!

Have a wonderful Christmas... love you :-)

 
At 12:44 AM, Blogger Larry Jones said...

You're the best. I wish you love and peace for Christmas and for always.

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger Rat In A Cage said...

Not that I'm anyone, but I'm proud of you. If everyone broguht 6 sets of clothes, imagine the difference.

If Bush hadn't already spent $220 Billion in Iraq, imagine what could be done.

Yes, you do have to be in your early 20s for that day to day job / effort. I used to do it also, and it wore me down and made me so depressed and bitter I eventually had to stop & channel my efforts elsewhere.

I am always thankful there are still others like you that have the commitment & energy I could not sustain.

 
At 12:54 PM, Blogger Aisha T. said...

Theresa, you are an amazing woman who made a huge difference to many people this holiday. To the woman with the great big gigantic heart: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger JayneSays said...

Thank you for your inspiring example of compassion! Love, love, love people who put their money (time, mittens, etc.) where their mouth is . . . Merry, Merry Christmas!!

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Crazy Dan said...

You sound like a nice person.

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger ZooooM said...

Well, your story has inspired me. I'm lucky enough to live in a place that never sees temperatures below 30. And yet our stores are overflowing with mittens and hats.

I can't knit or sew, but I can buy things on sale and send them to shelters for next year. I realize I'm only throwing money at the problem and not really contributing to the cure...but it's a start.

I've always thought I'd like to donate time or something to a good cause, but never find the time.

You found the time and more. And even though it hurts and feels like it's not enough sometimes, maybe that's a little gift to the rest of us. Our kick in the pants to get moving.

So even though you might feel like it's not enough, you probably don't realize the impact you have on others who might make a move because of you.

Thank you, and smooches to you in the holidays.

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger gnightgirl said...

My mother, in the beginning stage of Alzheimer's, told me today that she spent $40 at a dollar store, essentially buying 40 teddy bears, and dropped it off at A Woman's Place, our local organization that "hides" battered women from their abusers.

She was also distressed; Oh! she should have gotten cars for the boys, and dolls, and toys for older children...

I was able to comfort her by telling her of your visit to your shelter, and your mirrored frustrations.

You, Theresa, have touched lives in your city, and in ours.

God bless.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger nosthegametoo said...

I'm not surprised you touch lives and inspire love.

Much love to you and your on this wonderful Christmas day.

Peace and Love

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Mark & NCStud - You two already are the BEST!

Dick - I get uncomfortable with comparisons. You offer a lot to the world in your own right. I get a lot from your writing, particularly your poetry. And your photography is exceptional. In fact, my desktop is one of your photos. You're responsible for the smile on my face everytime I turn on my computer.

Laurie - (See above about comparisons) ... You're a MOM!!! That's the most important job in the Universe!
and, thanks for saying sweet things about me.

Larry - Wishing you the same, Sweetheart.

Rat - You have a good imagination. I'd love to redirect that money to some problems that need some serious attention.

Aisha - Thanks. There's more to do. Gotta put on our thinking caps (can those be knitted?) and come up with some other helpful ideas. Merry Christmas to you too.

Jayne - Thanks, Sweets! Love, love, love you.

Crazy Dan - Thanks ... except when I'm being naughty, which I try to avoid, because Santa is always watching, don'tcha know?

Zoooom - WOW! You're insanely cool! I got goosebumps. Thank you.

GnightGirl - Your Mom sounds very sweet. Thanks for sharing her story with me. I know there's a lot of suffering everywhere. When you want to help, sometimes it feels paralyzing to know where to start.

Nosthegametoo - Thanks, Love. Merriest and Happy to you too.

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger The Mayor said...

I completely admire you for doing that! I wish I had done something, I always think about it during the season, but we should really all do a little something year round.

 
At 1:19 AM, Blogger Al said...

In a world where we think that we can't be suprised, it's truely refreshing to be pleasantly suprised. You manage to pleasantly surpise me all the time. You true are a special lady with a huge heart and an immense capacity for love. may your light shine on as a beacon to us all

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger theresa said...

The Mayor - People who work in human services really have to count on the generosity of the community all year round, now more than ever. At non-holiday times, it's a nice surprise.

Al - With that kind of support, it's not possible to return to my comfy spot on the couch.
Thanks, Baby.

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger CatsFive said...

Good job volunteering at Xmas time, but they are swamped with volunteers at that time of year as everyone's White American Guilt takes hold. Stop by in July when everyone that would normally be volunteering is out water skiiing or biking. Or at least drop off some toothbrushes and toothpaste. Maybe some towels. Shelters run low of that stuff around that time of year.

 

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