Monday, August 11, 2008

Reminder: We All Have a Place in this World

I came across the story below through our clipping service for Panera and it struck a chord with me. Originally published in The Fenton Press, the story serves as a reminder to all of us that we can find our own life's meaning through action to others in many different ways.

Homeless man puts me in my place

by Julia Zaher The Fenton Press
Friday June 27, 2008

Each Sunday evening when Panera Bread in Fenton closes, I pick up all the unsold bread and baked goods, which the company donates each night to various nonprofit organizations.

On Mondays, my first stop is at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on the east side of Flint, where the food is used for the Saturday soup kitchen. I've seen a lot of little miracles since I began volunteering at the soup kitchen. One of the most memorable occurred during Memorial Day weekend.

I picked up the bread as usual Sunday but because of the holiday, no one was at the church Monday to receive it. Everything had to stay in the back of my Jeep until Tuesday.

On Monday afternoon, a neighbor asked me if she could get a ride to her friend's house just north of downtown Flint, where we live in a historic apartment building.

We stopped at a drugstore on the way, and she bought me a bottle of water to thank me for the ride since I wouldn't take gasoline money.

I dropped her off and headed back downtown. Driving down Saginaw Street near the University of Michigan, I saw a man picking through a garbage can. He opened a discarded food bag looking for something to eat. I circled the block to catch up with him and rolled down my window.

"You need some food, man?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

"Meet me at the back of my truck," I told him.

(My dad likely is having a fit as he reads this. Trust me. When you work with street people, you learn who you can approach and when it's best to keep moving.)

I parked, got out and popped the back door to dig into the Panera stash for him. He was an older black man with no front teeth. I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

"You saw me looking in that trash can?" he said as he started to cry.

"Yes. Look, if you need food, don't be ashamed. You just need a little help. I can help you," I said.

He threw his arms around me, hugged me and sobbed for several minutes.

"It's okay. You just need a little help," I said. "What can I give you? Cookies? Bagels?"

"I don't eat no bagels. Can you give me some cookies? I need sugar."

I loaded him up with cookies and baked goods.

"I just got out of jail, and I ain't got no money, no place to go," he said, still crying.
He carried a plastic bag with his worldly belongings.

"Look at me," I said. "What's your name?"


"Charles, I'm Julia," I said.

"Julia? That's my sister's name. Someone told me that God loved me, and here you are. You saw me eating from that garbage can. How did you find me?," he asked.

"I just saw you, Charles. And you looked hungry, and I have this food. I knew I could help you just for today."

He hugged me. I gave him the still unopened bottle of water.

"Can you get into one of these men's shelters?" I asked.

"I can't get in today because I've been drinking, and they'll know. They won't let me in," he said.

"I know. But you can eat this sugar. Let the sugar calm you and don't drink, okay? And then tomorrow, get into a place. Now, Charles, look at me: no more booze. Just the sugar, okay?"

"Okay," he agreed.

Just then, two other men came walking along who recognized Charles. They were volunteers from a local men's shelter, arriving just in time to pick up where I left off. I left Charles with cookies and the bottle of water from my neighbor.

On the way home, a sob caught in my throat. Panera Bread supplied the bread. My neighbor supplied the water and the reason to leave the house right at that time. God supplied Charles to remind me that I have a place in this world.

And on that day, it mattered that I was in my place.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Wow, what an incredible story.