Small Things Add Up

by DavalosMcCormack on December 16, 2010

Sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that have the most meaning.

In another place, at another time, it was a scene that could have been very ordinary or even slightly uncomfortable. But on this day it turned out to be something completely different – two very different groups of people coming together to help people in need.

Meeting the need

Project Homeless Connect (PHC) is an amazing program, bringing together hundreds of volunteers and an incredible array of services from mental and dental health checkups, to help in finding shelter, getting ID, even a bus ticket to go home. By bringing all this together, under one roof, on the same day, it makes it possible for a homeless person to get services that it might otherwise take months to get.

Army blankets

On this particular day dozens of students from a high school in Santa Rosa (just north of San Francisco) showed up with boxes and boxes of brand new army-issue blankets, ready to donate them to the homeless. They unloaded them from a truck and stacked them up in the hallway leading into the auditorium where PHC was taking place.

Directly across from the students was another group, the Taiwanese Buddhist Association, who had also showed up with boxes and boxes of blankets (theirs were made from recycled plastic and were amazingly soft)

Each group had stacked their boxes up as high as they could go, so that they created a kind of towering cardboard corridor down which the homeless clients would walk as they left the event.

So, here you had two very different groups: one consisting of very white high school students, the other a decidedly older group of people from Taiwan.  Both groups were standing there, blankets in hand, unsure who should approach the clients when they came by.

Service with a smile

It was, to say the least, uncomfortable. Then one lady with the Buddhist group walked across the narrow divide, smiled at the students, and picked up one of their blankets. She then showed the students how she hands the blankets to the clients – not just holding it out for them to take, but placing both her hands underneath it and “offering” it up to the client and presenting it to them with a slight bow.

She also showed the students how, as she bowed, she always tilted her head slightly to the side so she could maintain eye contact with the client throughout the process. It was her way of giving the client a blanket and a show of respect – two things in very short supply for many of the homeless people attending the PHC event.

When she had finished the students picked up the blankets and began practicing their bows, with the lady offering tips on how low to bow, how much to tilt their head, improving their technique and style. Soon there was a line of eager teens, their heads bobbing up and down, blankets held out, ready for clients.

Winter warmth

As more and more of the homeless left the auditorium they passed down the line of people offering them blankets and a warm smile.

For some of the clients it may have been the last kind gesture they would experience in days, or even weeks.

Some were visibly moved by the show of respect. All were grateful for the gift of a warm blanket to help protect them in the cold, wet wintry weather.

For a few brief moments there were no distinctions, no barriers, between the groups. Just people from different backgrounds, living very different lives, coming together to help others in need.

A few hours later the students and the Buddhists left. By then their boxes were empty. But their hearts were full.

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