As I walked into service last night passed through the foyer. One wall of our foyer is a huge window. Outside the window there was a LOT of stuff. When I looked closer I could see that the "stuff" was a makeshift shelter for 4 people. There were 4 people sleeping in sleeping bags and blankets under the eaves and all of their belongings were gathered in several shopping carts, wagons and strollers.
I remembered seeing some homeless people in the same spot several months ago on a Sunday morning. From talking to others, I found that they come to this spot regularly but usually leave before we come around on Sunday morning for Sunday School. I had never seen them in this spot on a Friday night before though. What brought them to this spot was most likely the horrible winter storm that went through here yesterday. We had non stop hard rain all day long with winds around 20mph. They were trying to find the dryest place possible.
The rabbi's sermon last night was off the cuff. He talked about our brothers and sisters who were taking up residence just a few feet away from us outside and asked what we could do as a congregation to help them.
After every service we have oneg, refreshments. One of the kids brought up the fact that we have plenty of food and could share it with the people outside. The Rabbi another congregant and myself made up a large plate of food, wrapped it up with some napkins and forks and brought some bottled drinks to the people outside. The Rabbi had to speak loudly to wake the people up. He told them that he was sorry to interrupt their sleep but that we were celebrating inside and wanted to share with them. We weren't sure if they would accept our food because earlier that evening someone had asked them if he could give them something but they kindly refused. Well... they accepted the food. They were kind of groggy because they had been awakened from their sleep. They didn't say much more and we went back inside. In the meantime, I was checking out their setup. I was thinking about how lucky I am to have so many comforts in life. When you don't see first hand the hardships that others have to go through, you really don't even know what it is like. When someone talks about the homeless, you tend to think of it as a concept, not as an actuality. I am not trying to say that I truly understand what it is to be homeless. I know that I only peered into the world of the homeless last night.
I left with Sabi shortly after that. I gathered my things and walked back through the foyer, past the makeshift home right outside that window. One of the men who was sleeping in front of the window raised his head up and smiled at us and waved as if thanking us for the little bit of food that we shared. This touched me.
So...back to the Rabbi's question "What can we do to help these people?" At my grandmother's church, they have a portion of their church set up for this very thing. They have bathrooms with showers, a kitchen and a place to sleep. One of their congregants stays overnight with the visiting guests and helps them with meal preparation and any other needs they might have overnight. During the day, there is a van to take them to look for work and to take the children to school. Her church is in a network of other churches that does the same thing. It is an amazing system.
Our synagogue is not set up like this though. We can't offer anything like that. I know that we could do something though...we just need some good ideas. That is where YOU come in!!
What does your synagogue, mosque, church, temple, place of worship, community center etc. do to help the homeless? What ideas can you share with us?
Thanks for your ideas!