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Posts tagged ‘homeless’

Thanksgiving 2017

We live in the eucalyptus woods of Lake Forest in Orange County, California, solidly middle class and a place we could not afford at today’s prices. We locked in to this gracious neighborhood of family focus, great schools, varied public and private services, and healthy businesses more than 30 years ago. This past two months we cleaned the house, packed up anything worth donating, threw out barrels of useless stuff that we wondered why we’d saved. We fixed and painted, scrubbed and polished. Organized in its new beauty, showing off its books, photos, and knickknacks, the house glows. We’re ready for the holidays, for our out of town guests. This will be the first in about 15 years that both our sons and their families will be together for Thanksgiving along with extended family and friends. The bright and shining face of comfort, we’re ready to celebrate our bounty.

Nearly 200 homeless people, many of them family groups, live around the Plaza of the Flags in downtown Santa Ana, our county seat. The area bridges the Orange County Superior Court building and the public law library. Nearby is the main branch of the distinguished Santa Ana Public Library and Santa Ana City Hall. None of the campers really want to live here but they can’t afford the high county rent. The encampment is an embarrassment, a haven for filth and disease, used syringes and empty bottles and cans. For discarded and broken toys, torn sweatshirts and trash. For vermin. For excrement. It’s a dirty, scary place to walk past as I did last year on my way to serve jury duty. It’s a failure of individual responsibility and self control, of inability to delay gratification or accept consequences, of unwillingness to apply oneself to education and work ethic. It’s a total failure of parenting skills. And it’s  not the image of public pride we’d like to project but the face of policy failure we can’t seem to resolve.

Some but not all of the adults work for low paying wages at jobs with inconsistent schedules. And yes, some are drug addicts, alcoholics, lowlifes and criminals – but not the children. The children are innocent and active, yearning for play, hoping for education. Like our four grandchildren. Like yours. Orange County officials are trying to clean up the encampment but if they deal with this problem by forcing these people out with no place else to go, then they simply foist the problem onto some other community. Resolution is not barricading Civic Center. It’s building temporary safe houses and long term opportunity. It’s people remembering their childhood goals and deciding to change themselves.

My family is eating lots of healthy food over this week of Thanksgiving. Everything traditional you can think of (most homemade by our many family cooks and bakers,) also sushi, pizza, and a variety of ethnic foods (most from local restaurants.) We love it all and we pick at the leftovers whenever we want a snack. Every year as part of my temple’s outreach program we collect hundreds of cans and boxes of food items to donate, along with grocery gift certificates, to help 200 low income families. Thanksgiving is one of about a dozen times during the year that we mount a formal collection – school supplies in September, clothing, books, eyeglasses, personal hygiene items, toys. Throughout the year we donate food and more food, because a meal eaten today doesn’t feed a person tomorrow. We write checks to service organizations whose mission is to help those who are ill, hungry, without homes. These low income people don’t live a few counties over. They live here in Orange County. They’re my neighbors. And yours.

We aren’t rich. We do without vacations, expensive hair care, manicures, gardeners, maid service, updates on the house, sometimes even without needed repairs. Remodeling our house is a daydream. Tickets to live theater or sporting events are out of the question. Until two months ago I drove a nineteen-year-old car but when it became dangerous, we purchased a newer used one. I don’t have to get around on a bicycle or on public transportation, and if I walk, it’s to enhance my health, not because there’s no other way. We do without luxuries, things by their definition no one needs. Our personal situation was built of hard work and bonuses of good luck. We have everything necessary for a decent life. We are rich in family, friends, and opportunities.

On Thursday when we sit with our two sons and two daughters-in-law, with our four grandchildren, and our extended family around a table graced with candles and goblets, we will say thanks for this bounty. But I will remember those whose lives are less secure, whose meal was cooked over a camp stove or eaten from greasy paper sheets while they hunkered on a cement slab in Civic Center. The crime is not that I can’t fix the problem. It’s  a crime if I don’t recognize their humanity, if I call them “other,” “other” being a designation of less worth. Yesterday I donated food. Today I wrote a check. Tomorrow I will give clothing. Next month I will donate toys. What we have is not extravagant. What we have is immensely extravagant bounty. I am deeply grateful.

May you always celebrate in joy and health with your family and loved ones. One day may everyone.

 

 

 

 

Image of homeless girl courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

 

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Choices

So many things are going wrong in my life at the moment, most of them related to – well, everything, now that I think about it. I’ll begin by stating that I won’t begin at the beginning. Imagine problems one, two, three, ad infinitum. And the final problem – the car, nineteen-years-old, worn and cranky – was at the mechanic shop last night, and the two older grands spent the night at my home so their parents could have an evening out. Hubby was working out of town. That meant I couldn’t drive the grands anywhere but I asked if they’d like to walk to a restaurant. So we did. The nearby shopping center offers many choices, and the kids picked a favorite Italian place, one that good-naturedly welcomes kids. We each ate pasta with a favorite sauce, slurping meatballs and noodles, gorging on hot bread and butter, sharing our selections with each other. After dinner we walked to the grocery store around the corner and bought food for breakfast this morning.

On the sidewalk we passed a man slumped against a wall who asked for nothing but looked away from us, seeming sad, dejected, tired, homeless. Possibly he was ill from a life lived in dark corners or unkempt gullies for who knows how long. I have so many bills, a falling-apart car, a house in disrepair on many fronts. Our financial situation precludes us visiting our younger son, his wife and the two younger grands.  But I bask in so much wealth in many ways.

My grands waited at the corner and watched as I walked back to the homeless man and asked if he was hungry. He nodded but remained silent. I gave him a bill. He looked and when he realized I’d given him not a one but a ten dollar bill, his face lit up. Ten dollars will buy a fraction of a tank of gas or pay a small bit of what the mechanic is going to charge me to fix the car that may run well enough to need that gas. Tears dripped down the cheeks of the old man; he could barely speak but in a hushed voice, he asked my name. I told him and asked his, then told him to please get something to eat. He nodded, still grasping the bill, a lifeline for the evening.

I don’t usually give to people on the street though we donate small amounts to many charities and worthy causes in more traditional ways. When possible I participate in service projects, and the kids do the same as part of their Scout programs. I know the homeless man may have bought a cheap bottle of booze with the bill, but I can’t stop people from destroying themselves if that’s what they choose. I can only choose my own life, and last night I chose to give a stranger, an old man, enough to sustain him for one more night. I hope he ate something hot and good for him. I choose to think he did. The kids witnessed a small act of mercy, and hopefully it impressed them in a way that will impel them to be compassionate as they grow up.

My grands were so sweet the whole evening and this morning, and so grateful that they got to spend the night at my house. I am angry, distressed, and deeply frightened about the deterioration of the environment, the danger of escalating world political danger, the uncertain economic future facing all my grandchildren and all your grandchildren. But my choice is to continue to do as much good as I can in this world, even if they are only small acts of justice or kindness or being responsible for the earth’s limited resources.

So, it has been a very good week for me despite the falling apart car for which the mechanic shop is having a hard time finding the part it needs to fix it, despite the fact we do not have air conditioning to endure this hot and humid summer, and despite that the floors in the kitchen and the bedroom remain ruined after two different broken pipe floods. Life is very good for me and I know how fortunate I am. It is far worse for many others.

Many years ago I was given a tiny piece of paper imprinted with two Hebrew sentences. I carry it with me at all times. Each sentence reminds me I am part of a world that is incomplete. It is not only my choice, but my charge as a citizen of the world community to contribute in a positive way. On one side is written, “The world was created for my sake.” On the other, “I am but dust and ashes.”

I am but dust and ashes. The world was created for my sake, not to squander but to help ensure the future. For the grandchildren of the world.

 

 

The Children painting courtesy Valentin Serov, CommonsWikimedia.org