Well, it’s 2020. Holidays during a pandemic, the most traveled time of the year… and countries, states, cities across the world are encouraging people to stay home and not have gatherings for the holidays. In an effort to decrease “social mobility”, many places are taking action to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. California just issued a “Stay at Home” order, many counties have imposed a curfew, many countries have even taken more extreme measures to “stop the spread”, and states here are starting to follow suit.
In my home, we opted out of traveling and our traditional large Thanksgiving gathering, in respect for all that is going on. SO… no big preparations, no getting the family ready for the festivities (my daughter enjoyed her dinner in her jammies). We prepped the day before and made other “gathering” plans for Thanksgiving.
What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving then to serve those most in need? So my 13 year old son and I served the homeless – and what a humbling experience it was! We served with the Peter Maurin Center (www.petermaurincenter.org), a 100% volunteer based non-profit agency in Downtown Akron, and went to a few homeless camps around. Our fearless leader, Karen McNeill, organized and arranged the blessings for the day. Karen explains how she turned her painful situation into this beautiful blessing for so many:
“After struggling through a difficult divorce in 1991, I didn’t want my children to choose between who to spend the holiday with, so my tradition was to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner the following day, to allow my children to spend Thanksgiving day with their father’s family. Each year, for over 30 yrs, my 8 siblings, myself, as well as our families and parents would attend mass at 9:30 a.m. and then have breakfast and group photos at my youngest brother’s home. After that everyone went their own way with their families for THANKSGIVING. That was always a sad day for me not sitting around the dinner table like other families, but I would make dinner for my parents. My parents passed away in 2006 and 2008. It was heart breaking to me not to be able to be with family for our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so I chose to take the focus off my pain by trying to think of others who might also be feeling alone and sad.”
Karen decided to follow her heart and serve the homeless – and has been doing so every year since. She started serving the homeless in 2008 by herself and later picked up a friend to help distribute the meals. The next year she took several nieces and nephews. Through the years, others would hear and want to join… no one could imagine sitting around the table when serving others brought such great joy! This year, there were several of us, with 5 vehicles filled to the brim with 100 hot/cold meals, coffee and hot chocolate, vans full of winter coats, gloves, socks, tents, shoes, trash bags, drawstring bags, toiletries, hand warmers, snacks, toilet paper and bottles of water.
We started the day praying over the expedition, packing up the cars and securing the home made meals (graciously made by St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick, OH and brought to St. Bernards Catholic Church in Akron to serve out of). Karen lead the way, driving the “dessert van” full of goodies and 17 delicious pies donated by Sam’s Club, whipped cream & to-go boxes to bless the homeless with a sweet treat. Everyone we encountered was so kind and thankful. We served over 90 people that day – giving them a home cooked meal, warm clothes, a glimmer of hope and lots of God’s love.
It was a beautiful day full of many lessons and life reminders – especially this year:
- Everyone is deserving of dignity, respect and some help when they’re down and out.
- Anyone could find themselves in a downward spiral of misfortunes, resulting in unexpected life circumstances – even homelessness.
- It just takes one act of kindness to make an impact – and that impact usually snowballs, gaining momentum and blessing many more then we’ll ever know.
- One person can make a big difference – look what Karen McNeill has done with the difficult situation she was in all those years ago.
- Serving others can fill a void, or an emptiness, in ones heart which they may not even know was missing. As Karen says “Each volunteer comes with their own story, and always feels more fulfilled upon leaving…”
- We all should serve others in some way; whatever breaks your heart – that’s where to start.
As a “lifelong volunteer” starting when I was 14 as a “candy-striper” and serving several organizations through the years- this is what I have learned, and continue to learn through these experiences: there has never been a time that I have served or volunteered, where I didn’t feel completely satisfied and grateful for the opportunity to do so! I have met the most amazing people, have heard the most heartbreaking stories, and have learned of an incredible hope and perseverance through stories of those I’ve served.
Generosity looks like many different things; giving of one’s time, generosity of resources, offering one’s talent / gift / skills to help someone(s) in need.
As I think about these next few weeks and the Christmas holiday, there is a speck of sadness os so much has changed; missing the hugs and festive gatherings with loved ones – but it’s just a different world right now. All of our lives have turned up-side down, BUT, one thing we CAN do is lean into it and use this dark time in our history to bring some light and happiness into our world… give a glimmer of hope to those most in need. There are countless ways you can make a difference and use the “opportunity” of this pandemic life-pivot to refresh others, and be refreshed too! Here are some ideas on how you can make an impact and make the most of this time: contact an agency and ask how you can help, or what they may need; animal shelter, rape crisis center, elderly homes, terminally ill programs, there is no end to the hurt and need out there. Perhaps getting blanket donations for an animal shelter, or getting the neighborhood kids to make cards for a nursing home, or getting your community involved to gather donations to make “blessing bags” to hand out to the homeless.
If there was ever a time before…as places are closed/ closing down again, Christmas parties cancelled, curfews imposed, kids at home with remote learning, families quarantined… a better opportunity than now to rally “together”, maximize this time, and illuminate the silver-lining of this situation we’re all in.