Holiday Serving: Helping People Experiencing Homelessness

Holiday Serving: Helping People Experiencing Homelessness December 11, 2014

What can you do to help those who are experiencing homelessness this holiday season?

It seems many people think about those less fortunate around the Christmas holiday.  As soon as the coffee shops roll out their peppermint latte, we instinctively want to connect with others.

I don’t know if it’s ingrained in us as a civilization to come together during the Mid-winter around the light. Maybe it’s left over from our days of being agrarian; we needed the light to help us, and give us hope during the cold months as we anticipated the birth of Spring. Maybe it’s Hanukah, lighting the candles, and remembering our stories of redemption. Maybe it’s Advent, waiting in the darkness for the Christ Child who brings light. Maybe it’s Kwanzaa or Festival of Lights or Solstice or any of these traditions and rituals that make us remember we are community and family. And that we all are somehow connected.

Traditionally, it has been a good time to make end of year contributions to service agencies. That gift of $500 could help us get a tax deduction that we desperately need. In-kind gifts can be used to help out at organizations, to reduce their budget costs, and to improve the lives of their clientele.

What happens when we see the VALUE in those we serve instead of objectifying them?
What happens when we see the VALUE in those we serve instead of objectifying them?

Some of us who work in the nonprofit world get a bit snarky when we hear someone say they want to do something for someone around Christmas Eve. Yet, this desire to be charitable and to help should be encouraged and not stomped out.

Some of us who give and serve regularly started out as a holiday volunteer. And some of us who have become Missionaries, Outreach pastors, and helping professionals did so because of a two week mission trip or a hunger and homelessness awareness camp.

There are many things we can do to help those who are experiencing homelessness during the holiday season.

Here are just a quick couple of suggestions:

  1. Your time counts- Volunteering can be a meaningful way to engage the community. Most of us desire glorious life-changing volunteer opportunities. And while FaceTime with people who are experiencing homelessness can make us feel good- it can sometimes objectify people and rob them of dignity. If you want to work with people, invest in the long term, by becoming a regular volunteer. We need to build people up, and move away from our self-satisfying agenda of being seen as a saint or a messiah. The real life-change comes in relationship. Our society sensationalizes moments and puts a mythical glow around one second of connectivity or transformation. We use words to compel others emotionally about these momentary encounters. But when working with a vulnerable people group; it’s important that we don’t remove their dignity by exploiting them as our service project. Why do we objectify the poor as projects?  Long term volunteering might look like committing one Saturday a month to help at the local clothing closet or food pantry. Or it might look like teaching GED classes or financial literacy.
  2. Your money counts- Think about giving an end of the year donation. Whatever the amount agencies and ministries can use your funds to support their day to day operation. Often times grants and some missional giving comes with restrictions. Agencies and Ministries need funders to help them with the regular stuff- like paying for office supplies.
  3. Your stuff counts- In-kind donations are amazing, and a big resource for those agencies who serve the homeless.  Let’s be realistic, however. No one needs your Prom Dress from 1994. I mean it’s cool and all, but a homeless service agency won’t benefit from rocking out your puffy blue shoulder- dress. Also, please don’t donate expired food. Ask a local farmer if she or he can use it in compost, instead. If you have access to underwear, socks, towels, blankets, and men’s clothing reach out to us. Again, we don’t need your broken toys, half-eaten bag of Doritos, or holy t-shirts. There are some agencies that bind clothing and sell it to a local rag-making company. Check your local area and see. Remember, you aren’t dumping your trash, you are serving a human.

I hope these things help you. Maybe you can connect to a great agency nearby you for this season- and if you need some pointers, just ask me. Oh and If you are in Atlanta, please come help me on Christmas for our Potluck Dinner at The Gateway Center.  You can register through our facebook event.

Bec works at the Gateway Center in Atlanta, helping to change lives and end homelessness
Bec works at the Gateway Center in Atlanta, helping to change lives and end homelessness
 What happens when we value others we are serving?https://www.facebook.com/WEareAtlanta2013
What happens when we value others we are serving?https://www.facebook.com/WEareAtlanta2013

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Or visit our webpage     OH AND OF COURSE- Tell me what you think!- Bec #endhomelessness

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