“Anything will help. God bless you.”
“Mother of 4.”
“Homeless. In Need.”
Everyday as I drive to school I pass signs resembling these. I sit nervously tapping my foot on the gas pedal trying to avoid eye contact as I wait for the light to turn green. Guilt. Discomfort. These are words that I would use to describe how I felt around people who are homeless before my trip.
D.C. is probably one of my favorite places to visit simply for all of the tourist destinations. Up until my most recent trip to this lovely city, I had never quite gotten the full picture of D.C. I was shown the pristine, polished version; however, walk about a block away from the tourist traps and the scene quickly changes. It fades from bourgeois stores selling Kate Spade items to rundown buildings selling cigars and old newspapers. This is the part of D.C. that no one ever tells you about. This is the part of D.C. that I visited.
I traveled to D.C. with my local YMCA as part of our spring break mission trip. My group paired up with an organization called Youth Service Opportunity Projects with the goal of improving the problem of homelessness. As of 2015, the Washington Post reported that there were 11,623 people suffering from homelessness in the D.C. area; it is an epidemic primarily caused by a lack of affordable housing.
Throughout the week we volunteered with a variety of amazing organizations working to end homelessness. At SOME (So Others Might Eat), I got to help serve a meal. Not only do they serve three meals a day, but also they provide affordable housing, free medical care, and job training to those in need. At Food and Friends, we packaged specialized meals for those with medical illnesses that prevent them from cooking or shopping for themselves. At DC Central Kitchen, I helped prepare meals that would be sent out to places who were feeding those who are homeless. It was incredible how much food one kitchen was able to mass produce; I must’ve chopped at least 100 potatoes! At Church of the Brethren, we cooked an entire meal, then served it to anyone who wanted it. I was amazed by the interconnectedness of the local organizations; at Church of the Brethren we served a dish that DC Central Kitchen had delievered!
My favorite part of the trip consisted of a meal that my group prepared at the church where we were housed. We opened our doors to the first 40 people who wanted to come in and eat. The night was spent playing games, eating good food, and having meaningful conversations with our guests. Their stories were amazing. I talked to a college student who was without housing. Who knew that a college student could be homeless? These people whom I had previously thought were so strange and different actually had a lot in common with me. Some loved soccer like me. Some were competitive like me. Some enjoyed politics like me. In short, they were people like me. Through volunteering with all of these wonderful organizations, I learned that people are not defined by their situations.
Everyday as I drive to school I pass signs. I smile at those holding the signs and roll down my window. I have care packages with things like food, water, toothbrushes, socks, and a note that I hand to them. The guilt and discomfort that I felt around those who are homeless had blossomed into something else: compassion.
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