I Can't Save the World, But I Can Make a Difference

All December long, I've joined my friend Stacy and many other people in performing Random Acts of Kindness. It's so popular, in fact, that it's got its own hashtag: #31RAOK, which stands for 31 Days of Random Acts of Kindness.

My acts have included things like run by my mom's house to give her a kiss good night and tell her I love her to giving a homeless man a McDonald's gift card to giving a co-worker two tickets to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library.

This past week, I attended the CASE District V Annual Conference in Chicago for work and planned three days of #31RAOK during my stay. I was taking a page out of my social media friend Scott's playbook and feeding the homeless. On Thanksgiving, Scott and his wife made a huge feast with all the expected sides and dessert, packaged it all up in individual serving containers, added bottled water and utensils to each bag and went out on that bitter cold night to feed the homeless in Chicago. Bravo Scott!

I stocked up to supply three meal bags - one for each day of the conference - and planned to go out during my lunch break daily to feed a homeless person. Each meal bag contained a bottle of Gatorade, two PB&J sandwiches, two apples, a juice box, a bag of popcorn, two boxes of raisins, three peppermint brownies, two candy canes, napkins, two Chapsticks, and the free toiletries from my hotel room. The toiletries were a surprise bonus. I hadn't thought of them until I walked into my hotel room and saw them in the bathroom.

Unfortunately, on my first two attempts to give out the meal bags, I was unable to find any homeless people. Let me be clear about this. I'm not saying there were no homeless people in Chicago because that is not the case. I just couldn't find them on the Magnificent Mile and in the Streeterville neighborhood where my conference was held. I sent a text to a friend asking where I might find them. She pointed out that we were having a decent size snow storm and it was pretty bitterly cold, so they were either in warming shelters or huddled in Lower Wacker. Good points.

On my final day in Chicago, I was determined to pass out at least one of the meal bags. I remembered that on the previous Friday night, I'd seen three homeless people by Ogilvie Transportation Center, so I headed straight there on my way out of the city.

There is really only one way to drive to Ogilvie Transportation Center from Streeterville if you want to get there with any speed. Lower Wacker Drive. I'd never driven it before. I took a deep breath, clutched my steering wheel, said a quick prayer, channeled Jake and Elwood, and hopped on the Drive. (New Experience #160 DONE!)

Less than 5 minutes later, I had safely arrived back above ground and found a homeless man. I whipped my car over to a bus stop, hopped out with a meal bag, and walked up to him with my arm outstretched, handed the man the bag, told him I hoped he found a warm bed that night and turned to get back into my car.

He started to follow me.

"Thank you, Ma'am. Thank you so much. I used to have a gold carat watch, you know. I had nice things. Have you ever seen a $1,000 bill?"

"I'm sure you had nice things and that stylish watch. I'm sorry you don't still have them. No. I've never seen a $1,000 bill."

"Me neither. But I saw a $100 bill once."

"Find a warm place to sleep tonight. There's enough food in that bag for a few meals."

"God Bless You, Ma'am."

And I got back into my car. As I settled back in and the heat started blowing on me, I realized how I could have achieved my goal of providing meal bags for three people. I could have taken a cab from my hotel to the train station, passed out the meals, and taken a cab back to my hotel. Ugh.

At least I fed one person and helped him remember that people do care and want to help.

All it takes is one person doing one nice thing to make a difference that means the world to someone.

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    Jessica Gardner

    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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