Changing Lives With McDonald's Hamburgers

Never in my entire life did I think I'd type the words that appear in the headline of this post. Given all the bad press McDonald's has received recently, it's almost difficult to believe that McDonald's can change lives for the better, but that's just what happened on Friday night.

I had just walked out into the brisk wind outside of Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago, on my way to the Civic Opera House for a performance of Die Fledermaus, when I saw a homeless man standing on the corner of  Madison and Canal Streets. As I waited for the light to change so I could cross Canal, I heard him speaking with a man about how he just wanted to get a hot meal that night. The man he spoke to was polite, but clearly wasn't going to help him.

The light changed and I started to cross the street when I remembered the McDonald's gift card I'd purchased earlier in the week intending to give it to someone when I was in Chicago that night. I like to help homeless people because we live in a society that has so much, yet so many have so little and it pains me to see so many people in need. I pulled the card out of the back pocket of my jeans, turned back towards the man with my hand extended, looked him in the eyes, and told him to get a hot meal tonight and that I hoped he'd be able to find a warm bed.

To say he was startled would be an understatement. Initially without words, he just looked at me in silent shock and a little confusion.

"It's a McDonald's gift card," I told him.

"Thank you and God Bless you," he repeatedly replied as he choked up.

I smiled and crossed the street.

As I reached the far side of Canal Street, I noticed another homeless man and felt bad I had nothing for him. If I could help everyone in need, I would. Just then, a woman walking briskly towards me slowed, handed the second homeless man a McDonald's bag, and kept walking to cross the street headed for the train station. She had two and she gave him one. Although they exchanged no words, I could feel and see his gratitude.

He opened the bag and started dancing and singing, "Hot food! Hot food!" With the excitement on his face and in his voice, he looked like a child on Christmas morning.

I walked another 10 or 20 feet and turned around to watch his joy from afar and to see if the woman gave the second bag to anyone. I couldn't believe I'd just seen this incredible random act of kindness on the heels of my own random act of kindness.

At that moment, I spotted a third homeless man standing against an office building on the corner about five feet from the second man. I'm not sure if the building was holding him up, but from the look of desperation and disappointment on his face, I'd say it was a good bet. He'd just seen two men receive meals from strangers and he clearly had no hopes of a hot meal that night.

But I wasn't the only one who spotted the third homeless man.

Mr. Happy Dance had spotted him too and walked over, pulling a burger out of his bag, and gave it to the third man.

In the hustle and bustle of our overly scheduled world where we're all multi-tasking and often not noticing what happens right in front of us, I was reminded of the beauty and generosity we're always surrounded by and that for the price of a few McDonald's hamburgers, we can change lives.

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    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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