A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The Timothy Project. And I wrote “to be continued”….I was convinced after thinking about it for years, that I knew why it mattered to me to help homeless people on Christmas Day. This past week I have wrestled with part two of this post, mainly because I realized…I don’t actually have the answer. I thought I did. When my children were young I used to load them up in the car during the height of the holiday season and take them to Target. They knew the rules. We would go to the toy aisle and they could pick out anything they wanted…but they knew it wasn’t for them. I watched with intrigue as they would make their choices. One of them would pick up a doll and exclaim loudly “I know a little girl is going to love this, because I love mine so much!” We would take all of the toys and clothing home and sort it on the kitchen floor. The wrapping paper, bows and ribbons came out and we would talk about how excited the kids might be on Christmas to see these gifts. We usually chose the fire station to drop off our items.
The tradition continued for years, and in 2014, after my marriage disintegrated, I knew I would be spending a good portion of Christmas Day alone. We still took toys to the fire department and made our usual donations, but the heavy feeling of sadness that usually surrounded me at Christmas was amplified. I started calling homeless shelters in Portland, Oregon, to see if I could volunteer. And much to my amazement….the answer was no. “No, we don’t need anyone, no our roster is full, we have all of our returning volunteers signed up…..” I was surprised, equally happy and sad. Portland is generous with their time on Christmas Day, and no one needed any more help. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew there would be the lost, the forgotten. I knew there would be people who wouldn’t show up at a shelter.
So I started buying gifts. I called shelters and asked, “what do residents get for presents on Christmas Day”. The usual answer was toiletries. Maybe a few snacks. So I started there. I tried to buy as much as possible in bulk, toothpaste, deodorant, combs. I added in gloves, socks, and hats. Yet it felt lacking. Where were the fun things? Where was the chocolate, the miniature candy canes? I added more to my piles on the kitchen table. I had blankets, bottled water, and some small teddy bears.
On Christmas Eve in 2014 I loaded up all of my bags. I had about 30 bags, and on Christmas Day, after the morning present opening had commenced, I set out in my snow boots, gloves and warm hat and drove to downtown Portland. I happen to know where the homeless people hang out. After years of driving one of my daughters into the area for a class I had good idea of where to “look” for homeless people. I knew they lived under bridges, behind buildings and in tents on the streets by the bus station. I had a strategy. I wouldn’t get out of the car. I would have all of the bags on the front seat, and I would make sure that I had “women” gifts and “men” gifts. My bags were color coded. I was nervous, but excited. I didn’t really know what to expect. I wasn’t afraid. Over the years I’ve had so many people ask me “aren’t you scared to do that, to go right up to them“. No, I’m not. I’m more afraid of not seeing them. I’m more afraid referring to people as them. I’m more afraid of a world where on Christmas Day, I’m not willing to seek the lost, the forgotten, the marginalized.
It only took me about one hour to give away all of my bags in 2014. I wrote about my first experience in 2014 on a blog that is no longer active. It was called The Power of Sharing. It’s been three years of seeking homeless people and giving gifts. In 2016, the project took an unexpected turn one night in the middle of a heat wave, when my youngest daughter asked if we could go give popsicles and bottled water to homeless people. And we did. And we did it again in 2017.
Last year I finally went “Public” with The Timothy Project. I very nervously asked on Facebook if anyone would like to help. 2016 took a lot out of people and I found that there seemed to be a need for people to do something. Over $500 was raised and we put together over 75 bags, with more food in them, warm socks and gloves for everyone and special Christmas treats. Again I found myself in the middle of downtown, handing out chocolate bars, wearing a Santa hat and receiving much more back than I gave. The stories of my encounters of this project will be shared here next week, and throughout the week on my personal Facebook page. If you would like to donate to this project, it would be greatly appreciated. We are all connected. We are better together, than separate. When we are for each other instead of against each other, we are powerful. Please join me for another season of giving at The Timothy Project.