Promise yourself that you will never use the words bum or loser again, and show up to help the homeless on a day that's not a holiday.
This week from Wednesday through Sunday, thousands of people from all over Los Angeles will descend on Skid Row. There will be tens of thousands of meals handed out by the shelters, groups, and individuals who want to celebrate Thanksgiving by sharing food with the homeless.
There will be so many volunteers that you won't know who from who on Skid Row and there will be so much food given out that a lot of it will go to waste. As a friend who used to feed on Thanksgiving told me, "Finding a homeless man who hasn't eaten on Thanksgiving is like finding gold!"
Please don't get me wrong. I don't see anything wrong with sharing food with the homeless or anyone. Far from it—as I'm writing this, Monday Night Mission has gone to Skid Row 234 days so far in 2013 just to feed the homeless. The problem I have is that there is so much emphasis on giving on Thanksgiving but then, magically, nothing afterwards.
Also this is not for those committed people who serve through the year and who also serve on Thanksgiving. Those individuals I consider to be amazing. I'm talking about the thousands who just choose Thanksgiving to do their good and be grateful but suddenly forget the next week.
Firstly, when these volunteers come to Skid Row, they are not going to see the real Skid Row. They are going to see a Skid Row that's safer and cleaner with tons of volunteers. When they see the homeless people, they are going to be the happiest you'll ever see them. They'll be full, they'll have received tons of gifts. If you never visited Skid Row before, you are going to walk away thinking Skid Row is not that bad.
See, 363 days out of the year most people in Los Angeles call the homeless people bums and losers. Last week I heard from a friend of mine, Quinn, that someone actually peed on him while he was sleeping on the sidewalk. People in L.A. actually believe people choose to be homeless, so they don't have to help. But the reality of what goes on in Skid Row is far from what it is on Thanksgiving.
Children get stolen, women get raped and raped again, and the men get beaten if not killed. And this happens way too often. People see Skid Row on Thanksgiving and assume that the people there are fed, when in reality when we were there last week we had men and women wait over 45 minutes in line just to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the rain.
Would you ever wait 45 minutes in a line for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when it's 55 degrees and raining?
The other thing is the tragic situations that most of these people have gone through to end up homeless. You are never going to hear their stories on Thanksgiving. Not on one of the only two days of the year that they will be happy.
Lastly, and I think the worst, is how the people on Skid Row will feel. How would you feel if people came in the thousands to see you and feed you for 3 days and then started treating you like shit the week after?
This is what I will ask of you!
If you planned on going to Skid Row for the first time this year on Thanksgiving, please do!
Understand that though the people you meet might not be your family, that they are someone's brother or sister, father or mother, and always someone's son or daughter. Understand that this could happen to you too if not for one of your own loved ones.
See them and promise yourself that you will never use the words bum or loser again.
Talk to every homeless person you can. Hug every homeless person you can and promise them one thing. Promise them that you will be back to help them when the holidays are over and keep that promise!