On our first day and trial run, four of us set out to find those in San Rafael who would receive a backpack. Driving through the streets downtown, searching for someone who needed the supplies, I realized how many people I had failed to notice during my usual route to school. On the steps of the CVS I frequently drove past, a man in a sleeping bag found a place to sleep for the night. Off of a street I walked almost every day, another man and his dog were carrying their home in a shopping cart. It dawned on me that I had made these people invisible because of my willingness to look the other way.
I’m not trying to play the blame game when I say that I’m sure we have all done the same at one point or another. It was an unspoken assumption that people who are homeless (I try not to say ‘the homeless’ because they are people and should not be defined by the situation they are in) do not try hard enough and that’s why they are where they are. They did it to themselves. They deserve it. In America especially it’s the idea of survival of the fittest and making yourself a life (and money) without the help of others.
I ask myself now, “How do you build yourself from the ground up if you don’t have the resources, the time, the opportunity, or even the hope?”
We ended up giving out 7 backpacks in Marin and 2 in Berkeley. The response was overwhelmingly positive and I learned a lot about the community around me. Most people we approached were surprised at first and then very grateful and excited! It was amazing to see how the people we met had so little but had such big hearts and were appreciative. One experience that stuck with me was seeing how the man with his dog reacted to our backpacks. We told him that there was some beef jerky in the bag and as a bright smile appeared on his face he turned to his dog to say he was able to give him a treat (this also inspired us to reach out for donations from pet food companies!). This act of selflessness and kindness changed the way I had perceived those who are homeless. This man could have eaten the beef jerky for his own strength so that he could get to the next shelter but he chose to acknowledge the needs of his pet. My experiences from that day helped me see how much the supplies in the backpacks help acknowledge basic human needs and that I do not need to change or fix a problem to make a difference.
Lessons I Learned:
I have a stereotypical view of the homeless but to defy that stigma I need to act because I have the privilege to do so. I am inspired to give not because I am better but because I see the value of the lives of those around me.
If I put myself in the shoes of someone living on the change they have in their pocket, traveling from shelter to shelter, I would hope that someone would see my humanity and needs.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for another blog post!