We Need To Help Others in the World We Have to Work In

We Need To Help Others in the World We Have to Work In December 13, 2021


This weekend, a friend of a friend needed some help quickly. She had just lost her mother to ALS. She was caring for two little girls. And due to all the time she’d taken off to be with her mother, she was out of money. She had nothing to give her children for Christmas, nothing to celebrate with.

I had just finished my flash donation drive for the Friendship Room, so I knew exactly how to get help to someone fast. My friend gathered a few of us for ideas, and I said I’d share her Amazon wish list with my Twitter followers. And my followers were wonderful. Even though they’d just help me put together a carload of cold weather survival kits for the homeless, they still managed to pull together and help with the Christmas list. Between them and some local friends in town as well, the mother got everything she wanted and several gift cards to Amazon and to Walmart besides. I was relieved and proud of my social media friends, as always. You guys never let me down.

About 24 hours after the quick flurry of activity, someone commented that “Amazon and Walmart are terrible companies.”

I agreed with her wholeheartedly. They’re awful. I hate them. But in our miserable excuse for a society, they’re the quickest way to blitz people in need with help.

This person decided to give me a few ideas, after the fact. I was supposed to find places to buy the items on the Christmas list NOT on Amazon, which I would’ve liked to do, but there wouldn’t necessarily be time to get them in before Christmas. And it would’ve been extremely difficult to coordinate a whole gaggle of people online by sending them to different shops instead of posting one list for them all to read.

The person also said I should’ve given the bereaved woman gift cards to smaller local groceries. Steubenville has a few of those family-owned places. I like them and I patronize them when I can.  I don’t think they offer gift cards you can buy online and email to someone in seconds, though. Even Aldi only has paper gift certificates. And all the well-stocked cheap grocery stores you can get to on the bus route are chains with as many problems as Wal Mart. The most convenient place for this woman to shop, because of her location and her not having a car, was the Walmart at the end of the bus route.  All roads lead to Walmart in American small towns.

I tried to be polite to this person.

The evening before this conversation, I was looking at a tweet from a person named Chad Loder who works with the homeless. He shared that more people die of exposure in Los Angeles than in colder cities like New York. He was helping homeless people to make portable platforms for their tents, to protect them from the cold and damp, by nailing foam to wood palettes. These platforms could be moved out of the way every so often when LA city crew came through to raze homeless encampments and send the homeless away: that way they’d still have their tent and their platform and could set it all up again.

A commentator said she was “of two minds about this.” She didn’t want to knock what he was doing, but on the other hand, wasn’t it “normalizing” homelessness and wintering in a tent, when we ought to be concentrating our effort on getting the homeless into actual houses?

People tried to explain that, for the person in the tent, living through the winter was more important than whether or not we were normalizing homelessness.  I don’t know if we got through.

It made me think of the time that Shirley Raines of Beauty 2 the Streetz was passing out bucket toilets to the homeless on Skid Row, also in Los Angeles. She said the City had temporarily taken away the usual port-a-johns, because they were afraid that having toilets would encourage the homeless to crowd together during the pandemic. Never mind that the homeless on Skid Row are always crowded together and don’t have the option of social distancing, and never mind that not having a toilet to dispose of your waste is one of the best ways to spread germs. The homeless were left with nothing. Ms. Raines brought them plastic buckets with biohazard bags to defecate in, so they could tie off the bags and throw them in the city trash cans and be a little bit more sanitary. And people were criticizing her for using so much disposable plastic which was bad for the environment.

I am begging everyone: do not be that person.

Of course, our society is corrupt and wicked. Of course these corporations are evil. They’re bad for workers here and overseas, they’re wasteful and terrible for the environment. Of course it’s obscene that we have people living in tents in the winter in Los Angeles or any other city.

But poor people can’t change any of that.

Middle class people and most of the rich people you’ll ever meet can’t change it either.

These are problems that can’t be changed unless the absolute richest are forced to change them, because they’re the only ones who can. We can’t change them by choosing not to do what little good we have available. Jeff Bezos would never in a million years notice if two little girls in Steubenville didn’t get dolls for Christmas. If all the homeless people in Los Angeles died of exposure, there still wouldn’t be affordable housing. Walmart would still be a terrible company if I never touched their gift cards. The environment would still be in crisis if nobody used a plastic bag to poo in.  Individual consumer choices can’t fix this. I wish they could.

What we can do, is help people, in whatever small ways we can. Giving a little girl a doll quickly and giving her mom some extra grocery money. Organizing quick effective ways to give a homeless person a warmer platform to sleep on or a bag to use the bathroom in.

And this is good, because faithfulness in little things can snowball into great big things. I believe that if enough people had compassion for those poorer than they are, they might have their eyes opened and get good and angry. We all might get angry enough to really work together to make big changes. But we can’t do it if we start by refusing to help people in the ways that are available now.

We start with being faithful in little things,  with figuring out ways to help people in the broken system we have, because at this moment it’s the only one we’ve got. And take it from there.

Don’t miss an opportunity to do good, this Christmas and all through the year. Even if the means you have to do it isn’t perfect.




Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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