Giving back


I took Maria to the Van Buren homeless shelter last night to help me serve food to the women staying at the shelter. Mario was going to head over with us but Jon arrived home just as we were walking to the car, and he chose to stay with his dad. Ri was glad. She likes that alone time with me.
It’s been a few months since we went to the YWCA Family Shelter to do crafts with the kids. Ri did such a great job with the kids when we went there on Sunday mornings. She loved when toddlers and pre-schoolers showed up because they let her help them draw and glue and gave her hugs. She soaked it up.
I didn’t know what to expect at this homeless shelter because it was our first time serving dinner. They had told me Ri might get bored because she couldn’t serve food from the kitchen (I did not disclose to Ri that she couldn’t serve food because she had her heart set on it and I didn’t want her to be upset before we even left for the shelter).
We arrived to just a few women sitting at tables in a large room. I introduced Ri and the volunteer helpers welcomed her. The coordinator of the dinner quickly reminded me that Ri would have to stay in the dining area. I asked what we could do in the area and she directed us to a pail and washcloths. Ri didn’t hesitate. She got her washcloth and began wiping down the tables. And the chairs. I know she had wanted to serve food but she didn’t whine or complain at all.
When the women stood in line to get food, the leader brought out pitchers of juice and cups. Ri volunteered to pour the juice and give it to the women after they got their food. And so we did. The women were a so sweet to her responding with “thank you baby” and “aren’t you darling.” She’d take the juice over to the table for the women who had a hard time walking. After all the women went through the line, she walked around the tables to see if she could get anything for them. She didn’t feel awkward or nervous. Rather, it came completely natural to her.
If I’ve done one thing right as a parent, it is installing in her the gift of empathy and helping others. I have always felt strongly that she needs to understand how lucky she is to have happened to be born in a first world country, to working parents who have a home and can afford food and transportation and clothing; and to have such a support system of family who think the world of her. I don’t want her to take it for granted and I want her to respect all people, and understand that everyone goes through rough times. In the end, we are all much more alike than we are different.
It’s always been pretty easy with Ri – she seems to innately understand and be sensitive to others’ feelings.
Sure enough, one of the women was telling Ri about her grand daughter and how much she loves to take her to the park and another woman was talking about dressing up as Wonder Woman for Halloween. Ri smiled as they spoke to her and engaged back with them.
I have grown up with parents and family reinforcing in me that “there but for the grace of god go I.” We are all struggling to make the best of this life; all struggling to find happiness and joy. The woman at the shelter could be me. And she deserves respect and love and compassion.
As we were packing up, a lady called out “Mom, hey mom. Come here.”
I walked over to her. She wrapped her arm around me.

“You’ve got a heck of a daughter there. It’s wonderful that she’d spend her time helping us. She’s beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more – on the inside and out.

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