I have to share something that happened to me on Friday. It’s long so pull up a chair and a cup of peppermint hot cocoa (a yummy recipe from Tauni at SNAP!)
A few weeks ago Pretty Handsome Guy made up some bags for homeless people with our 8 year old for a Y Guides service project. The bags had warm gloves, water, snacks, canned meat, socks, etc. He put two in my car and said we should give them to homeless people we saw. Living in suburbia, I don’t see many homeless—except this one man who I always see at the same time everyday as I drive to pick up my boys from school. He is always walking on the road carrying three large bags (two big army sized duffle bags and a backpack.) You can tell he’s hauling around all his possessions (including a ratty tarp that I saw peaking out of the hole of one bag.)
I missed seeing the man with the duffle bags for a few days, but was elated to see him last Monday. I pulled over and tried to offer him the goodie bag. He looked at it briefly and told me that I should save it for an older homeless person. He explained that he was strong and could work to pay for food but some others weren’t as fortunate as himself. He flat out refused the bag saying that the items in the bag wouldn’t expire any time soon. He told me I should save them until I saw another homeless person that would need them more than himself. I asked him if there was anything that he needed (fully bracing myself for the money answer.) He thought for a minute and then lifted up one foot. On his foot was a soccer cleat, but the spikes were only present on the heel section. The front section was worn down to the felt lining. I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable it was for him to carry his load and walk in those shoes for miles each day. He hesitated, but finally said he could use a pair of shoes. He went on to explain that he refused to take new shoes. (He told me that the church down the road had offered him a new pair but he turned them down.) He insisted that thrift store second-hand shoes were fine.
I asked his size and he simply replied, “Size 9, preferably black.” As I drove away I knew I had to buy him a pair of shoes.
This week was jam packed and I wasn’t able to get to a thrift store. (I honestly felt guilty for each additional day that the duffle bag man had to endure walking in his broken cleats.) Finally, on Friday I picked up the boys from school early and I explained the errands we had to run. I also asked them to help me find a pair of size 9 black shoes at Goodwill. We found a pair of size 10s that looked like they might work. But, I didn’t have any cash (or my checkbook) to pay for them. (I’m still dismayed that Goodwill doesn’t offer the convenience of paying with credit cards. But, I also understand their reasons.) There is a Target right across the street from our Goodwill, so I ran over to Target to get some cash. While there, I decided to buy a new pair of shoes instead. I mulled over the choices, deciding against snow boots thinking that he’d likely still be wearing them in the summer. Sneakers were out because it seemed better to buy something resistant to water. Finally I chose a pair of casual loafers with thick hiking soles. We rushed to the register past all the candy as my boys begged for a candy bar. I told them “not today,” but grabbed two bags of M&Ms and put them on the conveyor belt.
Once in the parking lot, I ushered the kids into the car. I was eager to get going, knowing that the man with the duffles had likely started his walk down the same familiar road. I glanced around quickly to make sure no one was looking. Then I gently lifted those beautiful new shoes out of the box. I used my keys to saw through the strings holding them together. Then I did the unfathomable, I rubbed those new shoes in the dirt. I made some scuffs on the toes and heels and then dusted off the excess dirt. I’m not sure if I felt more guilty for soiling new shoes or for knowing that I was going against the man’s wishes. After closing the car door against the bitter wind that day, I stuffed a pack of M&Ms inside each shoe and a new pair of warm gloves.
We rushed out of the Target parking lot hoping I would see the half cleated walking man. I drove up the main street where I usually saw him, but no dice. Then I turned onto the connector street where I had only seen him walking one time before. There he was! At the top of the hill, his usual gait strong and steady but obviously carrying a very heavy load.
I pulled over and rolled down the window. I told him I had a pair of shoes, size 9 in black for him. He looked at them skeptially and asked, “Are they used? They look brand new.” I knew he was debating taking them and wouldn’t if he knew I had just pulled them from their new box. I conjured my best incredulous voice and said, “Yes, I swear they are from the thrift shop. Can you believe it? They look like they’re almost brand new!” I pushed them toward him and begged him to please take them. He slowly accepted the gift, said thank you and that he hoped I would be blessed in return. I was relieved, but also felt guilty that I just lied to this man who was honorable to refuse a goodie bag so as to help someone else.
As I drove away I looked in my rearview mirror to see him sitting on the curb looking in the shoes. I have to hope that he put them on. I guess I won’t know until after the holidays when I see him walking (hopefully wearing his pair of “new-used” shoes.)
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday and have a Happy New Year. I’ll be taking a little time off from blogging to spend with the family. See you in the New Year!
Update!!! I just saw the man with the duffle bags today and…HE WAS WEARING HIS NEW SHOES!!! What a happy sight to see.
P.s. Just a reminder that you only have a few days left to make any charitable donations for a tax write off in 2012. I will be donating to my two favorite charities, who both work to give housing for those that need shelter: