One of our favorite family traditions is going to downtown Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday. We go to the parade Thursday morning, go out to eat and the kids try to narrow down their Christmas list at the American Girl and Lego stores. We enjoy vacationing in our home city over one of our favorite holidays.
Olivia was about 6 when she started to notice the numerous homeless people living on the streets and started to ask hard questions. The point of all these questions was ‘how can we help’. I started to explain some common, but not adequate, answers about how money does not really help and that we can’t invite everyone to our hotel room. She was not satisfied with my answers and just wanted to help. I was not sure what our family could do.
We started to think about what we have to offer. Our desire was to share the love of Jesus with the homeless in our city but how could our family help? As a family we decided to make lunches in our hotel and then hand them out to homeless people. Our kids have a blast picking out their favorite foods including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Cheetos, Rice Krispy treats, granola bars, oranges, a Capri Sun drink and a pair of new socks. The kids do all the work of making and packing the lunches. Jen and I oversee quality control. They also save up their coloring and artwork and put one in each bag. It is great to see all the kids, including little Kaylee, working together to make all the lunches.
The results have been amazing. The kids hand out most of the lunches and ask each person for their name and we have a conversation. The kids used to be a little nervous about the guy bundled up in the alley but now they know it is probably someone like James or Darrell. Many of the people we met have told us about their life and are happy to have a conversation. This year we got a chance to pray with some people and share that we desire to be a blessing because Jesus has given us the capacity to help. They ask the kids about their favorite TV shows and toys. Kids have a unique ability to bring a smile and start a conversation. These discussions and new friends help to personalize an often-faceless problem.
I don’t think our efforts will end homelessness in Chicago, but I think it can bring a moment of joy to people who are in a tough season of life. You can see the smiles on their faces when a 6-year-old hands them a lunch they made. It can also create thankfulness in the heart of our kids. Raising kids in the suburbs creates a challenge of them believing that everyone is exactly like them. They are starting to realize not everyone grows up in the suburbs with a swing set and family bike rides to get ice cream on summer nights.
Olivia still asks a lot of questions, but the topic has shifted from ‘how can we help?’ to ‘why are they homeless?’ now that she is almost 11. This is an opportunity to have more in-depth discussions about a hard issue. As parents we try and lean into these conversations. She loves helping and wants to hand out more lunches each year. This weekend has become a highlight of our year because of lunches we hand out and we notice the thankfulness of our family is growing.