Homeless man puts me in my place
by Julia Zaher The Fenton Press
Friday June 27, 2008
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.
"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.)
"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.
"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.