Neighboring The Neighborless

Another Night Of Neighboring The Neighborless

The last two weeks in December, I went downtown a few more times than usual. Some trips were planned, others were spontaneous. Twice, I brought my daughter with me - she's heard about my volunteer work but, until now, has never had the opportunity to join me.

One night, we'd been out to dinner at Portillo's. I try to make sure I bring the pink bags with me whenever I know I'll be going downtown and this night was no exception. We decided to walk around and see if anyone in need was out and about. We saw a man on his knees, doubled over.

"Help me. Please. Somebody please help me," he moaned over and over again. His name was Levi and he hadn't eaten in days. After making sure he was alright, I gave him our left-overs, nearly half a pizza. We also gave him socks, deodorant, hand warmers and a few McDonald's bucks. We walked on.

Next, we met an older man, homeless and very, very drunk. Due to his intoxication and, we later learned, arthritis, he was unable to get up by himself. I braced my legs, offered him my hand and gently pulled him up. We chatted a while. He was in good spirits and thanked me for treating him like a human being. I hear that a lot. It makes you wonder what's happened in a person's life that causes him or her to thank you for treating them like they're human, you know?

As we made our way up Michigan Avenue, we passed out socks, toothpaste, and deodorant here and there. We walked past an indoor ATM kiosk and, in the window, I saw a homeless woman curled up and sleeping soundly. My daughter asked if we should go wake her but I thought it might be better to just let her sleep. The police would come along soon enough to make her move and I just hoped she could get a little rest until then. Did I make the right decision? I honestly don't know. But I truly hope and believe in my heart that I did.

The last person we met that night was a man who was standing in front of Water Tower Place. We found him hunched over, leaning on a walker, plastic bags wrapped around his bare feet. The temperature was 23 degrees outside. Again, I was astounded by the number of people who walked by without even glancing.

His name is Martin. I asked how his feet were doing; he confessed he hadn't looked at them in several days. He needs special orthopedic shoes. I'm still working on trying to find him a pair. Thank goodness he does have a pay-as-you-go cell phone; I got his number so I can call him occasionally and make sure he's okay.

You know, a few things jump out at me when I'm out helping street people. First, as I mentioned earlier, the number of people who walk by without even seeing them. It takes my breath away. The other thing is that, although I've been criticized occasionally for the work I do, I'm glad people see me out there. It never fails - someone always comments and says, "that's a good thing you're doing."

I can't help thinking that, for every person who says it, there are at least five others who are thinking it as they see me out there with my pink bags. I don't say this to brag or show off. I just hope it has a positive impact when people see me living my belief: Be the change you want to see in the world.



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