A random act of kindess usually entails anonymity. However, I was asked to participate in the #lighttheworld challenge and agreed to share my experience. My specific assignment was to do an act of service that lines up with the scripture “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat.” (Day 21). As I was thinking of a service project to do my mother-in-law immediately came to mind. She volunteers weekly at the Youth Detention Center and often feeds homeless youth downtown. I asked her if we could set aside a night to serve dinner to at-risk and homeless youth downtown during the month of December. She agreed and prepared a hot meal made up of delicious orange chicken, rice, green salad, rolls, and gingerbread cookies. I should also mention that she made enough for 50 PEOPLE all by herself. This is not her first rodeo and she did it all without breaking a sweat. She has fed this specific group at the Volunteers of America Resource Center many times and was able to lead our group through the necessary steps. I want to share a few of my observations throughout the night. But before I do, here is a little background about the center. They offer emergency shelter beds, 24/7 assistance, 3 meals a day, and free legal services to 15 to 22 year olds in the community. Overall they are able to help around 800 at-risk teens every year. The facility is clean, tidy, and provides the kids with a safe, warm place to stay.
A few observations:
- As we unpacked the dinner in their kitchen I found myself wondering what it would be like to have to rely on strangers for your next meal.
- As an angsty teenager I was allowed to make mistakes and be forgiven by loving parents. Where were these kids’ parents? Did they know where they were or what they were going through?
- These kids were once babies, just like my little Lila, that depend on parents to nurture and help them. I need to take my role as mother seriously and make the most of my opportunities to teach Lila what matters most.
- These kids are fighters who are battling the world on their own and doing the best they can.
- These kids are brave and polite. The vast majority offered thanks for their warm meal and polite small talk.
- My breath caught in my throat when I asked one of the teenage girls how old her pretty baby girl was that she was lugging along in her car seat and she responded “3 months”, the exact same age as my Lila. This little baby did not have grandparents, aunts, and uncles doting on her every move and smile. Why was I so lucky to have a loving support system in my life? Do I take it for granted sometimes?
- My attempts at eye contact and small talk felt very inconsequential to these kids that are facing unthinkable troubles in their lives. But at the very least I wanted to treat them with dignity and respect.
- I hope they know that each of them matter.
- God loves us all the same. No matter if you are rich or poor. I think of what Pres. Uchtdorf said in the Christmas devotional. There is no shame in being poor. Remember that the Savior of the World was born in a stable and laid in a manger “because there was no room for [Him] in the inn.”5