What image do you see when you hear the word homeless? || use to think of words like dirty, lonely, and also needy. The true definition of homeless is without a home, and therefore typically living on the streets. Stereotyping is a common thought through our human minds, which means oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. I learned this summer on my mission trip to Madison, Wisconsin, that homeless people are not what we think they are. I woke up feeling physically, mentally exhausted from the day before, packaging meat and cleaning crates for Second Harvest Food Pantry. We sorted and pack meat.
I did not think I could look at meat ever again. We then had to cleaned crates, after crates of what use to have food in them. It was a new day, and we had to return back to work. My mission group and I were going to River Food Pantry. I had no clue what to expect. I finally learned we would be serving homeless people. The only thought that crossed my mind was I would be serving dirty, lonely people, but I later found out that I was wrong. When we arrived at River Food Pantry, I was awed on how big the warehouse appeared. Half of it had folding tables and chairs, with an open kitchen. The other half was filled with food.
It looked similar to a grocery store. Our mission group received a tour of this warehouse. We proceeded into the back area and where more mounds of food was stored. You would have thought it would last for months. In reality, it would be out in a week or so. Minutes were counting down until people would start arriving. There were all sorts of different types of volunteers; middle class, high schoolers, kids in college, families, couples, and even homeless people themselves. These homeless people talked about how much they wanted to show gratitude for all the food that this food pantry has given them.
With that being said, they volunteer at River Food Pantry, too. After the people receive their supper, they would assemble over to the food pantry, where I had to manage how much food they receive. This set up was similar to a grocery store, with shelves. The first stop was home remedies. The people could only take one item from this shelf. Then, they would come over to my stop. There were three shelves, and they could only take one item from each shelf. Although, some items had signs that said they could take more than one. After that, they were led into this room with shelves.
This room had shelves of food around the walls into a square like form. People would set their shopping carts in the middle of this square room and had the freedom to choose what food they would like. Throughout the processes, volunteers would be weighing their food because these people could only have so much, determining how many people were in their family. Continuing on, they would receive dairy products and finally, the last stop would provide meat and a desert. I found the system to be wonderful. I was amazed by the type of people that would go through the line.
There were people that looked like you and me, but there were also people that you normally picture as the homeless. I found it sad when men in their twenties, walking through, and you could tell they were on drugs. I kept thinking how better off they would be if they would have said no to drugs. I had many different conversations with the people that had walked through. One of the men surprisingly admitted to it. He said that the drugs took over his life, and he had ruined it all. This man had the opportunity to go to college, but he dropped out and was put on the streets, with no money.
He is now trying to find a job, but it is hard when you have an addiction. This man said if he could go back he would have said no and would have made a better decision. Throughout these two hours serving people, I talked to more and more people of different races. The one that stood out to me the most, was an older man. He had teeth missing, age spots all over his wrinkled face, and smelt like drugs and alcohol. Like most people, he asked me about how my day was going, and I asked him the same. Unlike the other people that had passed by earlier with the same old “it is going good”.
He took me by surprise and said life is not so good. This older man explained sheepishly how he was not going to eat tonight because he felt guilty and had to return back to his little girl. He also talked about wishing for a better life for his daughter and wanted to do anything for her. He did not want her living the same life he was. This man worked several jobs. These jobs only paid rent, clothes, and school supplies. In the end, they did not have enough money to buy food. I stood back and listened to this man. I could not help but wonder how he could not afford food after working several jobs. Then it hit me.
I looked down at his fingers shaking, and I took a deeper look at his face, finally seeing the scullion face. I then listened deeper, and I could hear the rasp in his voice. Not only he is paying for rent, clothes, and school supplies, he was also buying drugs. He had an addition. During this experience I learned not to judge a person on what they are wearing, or what path they have taken. Even though some people are homeless or a drug addict, they are still people. They have a heart, too. Always have an open hand to anyone. There are more hungry people in this world then we all think. And yes, even in our own little town.