How do you shop for a gift you thought you could not afford?… just ask for a little time without dollars. ;D

December 31, 2010

It’s the end of the year and I would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!!   My last three weeks have been a wonderful adventure as those who have read the first Cherries Over Quicksand all know…. even though I am ultra girly… I would rather run from a  burn-out cloud on the drag strip than enter a looming strip mall.  My fiance is wonderfully understanding and my children are grown and understand the meaning of Christmas… a time for giving but not to the point of expecting Santa to mortgage his or her sleigh so they were simple.  Yea!  They gave me the gift of time.  I spent my Christmas/New Years season contacting out-of-town publishers who might be interested in a feed-the-homeless story… a very eye-opening and long adventure.  Then the best part was meeting the leaders at The San Diego Rescue Mission, about 100 volunteers and spending a day with hundreds of homeless people on the downtown streets and in the Rescue Mission.  It was a wonderful day and this is my story.  At the bottom is the link to the first publication to run the story with the donation site as I requested.  They also included my name which I told all publishers was their call but did not matter to me  either way, as this is a gift from me  to our homeless population and the wonderful leadership I met at the Mission that day.  Some ask why I went so far away to choose an organization to write about… it’s where my heart led me is my only answer… the physical pull was so strong to help these people I had never met that I just had to go… my family completely understood, I feel so blessed.  The SDRM needs millions in donated dollars and  items per year to run their extraordinary programs… so this is our gift meant to entertain and inspire from me, my fiance and my children…It might be a little large but like some publisher with less space available found… it can be worn with a belt.  Smile. ;D 

Have you ever wondered about approaching the homeless? 

Dressed in boots and layered oversized clothing I was welcomed into a group of four other volunteers.  I had purposely volunteered at an event where I would not know anyone to get a completely fresh perspective and I had succeeded.  Within fifteen minutes of walking in the direction of our designated streets we were two steps from a group of homeless women talking alongside a large building. “Have you heard about the free Christmas dinner at the Rescue Mission tonight?” the one man in our group asked, as he held out the three-by-five invitation.  “Tonight?” one woman asked, with her small hand over her smile.  He nodded as she took the invitation from his hand.  No one spoke as she read the words; San Diego Rescue Mission Christmas Dinner, Saturday, December 18, 2010, 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., 120 Elm Street, SD, CA 92101, silently to herself.  “Thank you!” she said, with a nod toward her friends.  He then stepped forward and handed out more invitations to the rest of her group.

I thought back to the early morning when we realized rain threatened outdoors as about 50 volunteers listened to the directions for respectfully approaching the homeless people on the streets of downtown San Diego including, “Do not take pictures of the homeless. Many times it is offensive and makes the outreach difficult”. Michael Castaneda, S.D.R.M.’s Men’s Center Intake Manager thanked everyone, let us know we could expect to be serving meals to about 1500 people in need, then reminded us to stay in groups or with at least one other person at all times. 

Homeless singles, groups, couples, handicapped people of about every age and people with children mostly accepted our invitations with smiles and gratitude.  Some said they had to work and others wanted to share their stories and tell us the city or state they had traveled from or told us jokes; our group was all smiles and exchanged well wishes with each brief meeting. 

Just as I was thinking about how comfortable the homeless were to approach we heard yelling from across the street.  About five volunteer women from a local church were walking quickly away from a group of homeless people they had just invited to the dinner.  One homeless woman was yelling something about not wanting to get fat like volunteers.  With surprised faces, the volunteers quickly crossed the street to join us as we all picked up our pace.  We headed toward the next block and almost immediately met an elderly homeless man.  His face lit-up while he told us how much he would love to have dinner at the Mission. “Thank you,” he said, with sincerity as he folded the invitation neatly and put it in his pocket. 

About two hours later, we had handed out most of our invitations and were headed back to the Mission when we saw a young woman with a heavily worn stroller.  She pushed her baby carriage past us as one volunteer extended an invitation to dinner; all the while the woman’s gaze remained down.  She slowly shook her head as her reply to us, but then turned and inquired in a hopeful but drained voice, “Are there toys for children?”  I answered her, “Yes and other giveaways, please come join us.”  She accepted the paper invitation and slowly walked away.

Back at the Mission, I was offered a short tour of their facility that had once been a hospital with extremely productive and transferable functionability for shelter use then joined volunteers in the dining room including military men from the USS Makin Island (Ship) as they placed long sturdy tables throughout the room while other volunteers displayed gifts for men, women and children.  Later some of these same soldiers helped the Mayor dish-up meals in the kitchen.

As the first 200 people-in-need walked through the Mission’s door Deborah Williams, S.D.R.M.’s Volunteer Coordinator welcomed each person with the kind of holiday cheer one would expect after returning home from a long journey.  The festive atmosphere was complete as the band played Christmas music and guests were led to their tables already set with green salads.  The room literally bustled as people greeted new friends at almost every turn then silenced respectfully, with all heads bowed during the opening prayer.   

I went outside into the damp cool day to see where the rest of the hundreds of people were waiting be seated for the Christmas dinner.  They were lined up under protective awnings and across the street in the parking garage out of the elements but still in the cold.  The weather did not seem to affect anyone’s joy as I spoke to some of the people in line.  One group of men shared their gratitude for churches that welcome the homeless for various meals during the weeks but they all agreed there was not enough food or shelter.  They described their ongoing apprehension of being turned away on cold/ hungry nights like trying to avoid sickness to their hope.   One man said, “Sometimes the homeless feed the homeless.”  The men began to joke happily with one another the closer the line moved to the entry door where we could see volunteers in Santa hats skillfully carrying trays filled with delicious ham dinners piled with all the fixings.  

When I walked back inside, Mick Hartley, S.D.R.M.’s Men’s Center Chaplain was singing lead for one of the performing bands and volunteers were gliding throughout the room placing pieces of caramel cake in front of diners.  The children had classic wide-eyes-of-surprise when the very large and tasty deserts were set before them without notice. 

There were settings and salads for about 30 people on a table but I noticed something was missing.  “Where are the chairs for the first table?” I asked Williams.  She explained this was the easy access section for the wheelchair bound diners.  Within minutes, handicapped guests wheeled-in ready to join the celebration after receiving a warm welcome from Williams; Herb Johnson, S.D.R.M. President/CEO; Karen Clark, S.D.R.M. Community Relations & Events and volunteers.  The atmosphere was that of a safe and loving home, an obvious representation of the Mission’s leadership.

Dan McAllister, San Diego County Treasurer, Tax Collector expressed his respect for the Mission’s leadership and programs.  With all the activity surrounding us he summed up key programs for the homeless very well.  “It’s not just, ‘Show up and they will feed you’.  They can get you a new lease on life too,” said McAllister.  Then we passed San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders near the kitchen as he joined the volunteers to serve meals and happily shook the welcoming hands throughout the lines of tables.  Later I met Ronald Lacey, Community Outreach, Office of the Mayor, he also joined the leaders and now about 100 volunteers as we greeted and spoke with ultimately about 1,600 diners.  

I had read about the Missions extensive programs for men women and children including, twelve month recovery programs, an outpatient program, the Recuperative Care Unit program for homeless released from the hospital, the Partners for Hunger Relief program and the Emergency Overnight Shelter where each night, up to 60 battered, homeless, or poor women and children, 12 and under can receive food, shelter.  

A dark-haired homeless man who now lives at the Mission in their twelve month program told me he decided to stop making bad choices that could land him in trouble and to start making positive choices with the Mission’s leadership.  I thanked the man for telling me his story and told him how everyone I had met at the dinner had been extremely kind and gracious.  He looked pleased and said, “Just because you’re homeless, doesn’t mean you have to act like you are homeless.”  I said, “Those are powerful words, can I use them?” “Sure,” he said.  He pointed out that many of the homeless struggle with mental illness and do need the extra care, I nodded in recognition.

Johnson who is also a minister makes wearing his many indispensable hats look comfortable.  I asked him if the Mission is in need of donations.  “Yes, donations have been down for three years,” he said.  He further added they are a faith-based organization and do not receive government funding only donations from sponsors and kind citizens.  I thanked Johnson and as I headed over to the gift table to help out, overheard someone say a phrase I had heard many times that day; “No one expects to be chronically homeless.”

“Do you have any black socks,” a young blond woman asked me.  One of the volunteers answered, “We’re out of socks.”  She selected a gift bag filled with toiletries thanked everyone at the tables and left with her family who also had already selected their transparent gift bags.

Later I spoke with the Mayor.  I told him I had just learned teenagers 16 and older were allowed to volunteer at the Mission and asked him his thoughts on teens volunteering.  “It puts things in perspective, like their own problems.  It’s time to start giving back no matter how young they are,” he said.

A beautiful 90-year-old lady walked up to me with her walker and her neighbors, they were not homeless but appreciated the hot meals.  The two younger men said they all took care of each other like family.  “I’ve never been here,” she said. “It was wonderful!”  Then she shared that her hat was 50 years old as her pretty blue eyes twinkled.

It was close to the end of the night when a family stood at the toy counter with their four-year old little girl.  She shook her damp golden-brown curls and stood on her tip-toes as she tried to see the toy selection.  She pulled a Christmas stockings forward, reached inside and slid the little toy animal out enough to see its face.  Her eyes teared up with happiness and disbelief.  “Is this for me?” she asked.  Her parents could see she had made her choice and nodded.  She looked at the little toy with delight.  Then the lady with the baby carriage from the streets walked by with the stuffed animal she had chosen clutched to her chest as she silently headed back outside amidst all the beautiful music, good wishes and gratitude inside the Mission and into the damp cold night with a new toy.

The San Diego Rescue Mission is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is qualified to receive tax-deductible donations welcome from individual citizens to large corporations and foundations.  Donations may be made at sdrescue.org

Please contact me at RhondaRicardo@hotmail.com if you would like to run all or part of this story, with the SDRM donation website, in your hard cover or online publication at no charge of course.

The link below is to the first publication to publish our story (from the wonderful people at sdnews.com) with one of my photos including the San Diego Mayor… over 365 hits so far… hopefully from some needing to make their year-end contributions!!  Happy New Year!!! 

www.sdnews.com

Second Publication:

sandiegonewsroom.com

Third Publication:

www.topix.com

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