A reluctant volunteer's reflections on feeding the homeless
By DAVID McBRAYER
I was having second thoughts when the Saturday finally rolled around when my little country church, Ebenezer UMC, Roswell, was joining up with Hickory Flat UMC to feed the homeless in downtown Atlanta.
Like many of us, my experience with people living on the street was limited to those uncomfortable moments when I tried to avoid making eye contact with panhandlers. How was a slightly germaphobic introvert like me going to handle having to shake hands and fellowship with homeless people? It’s challenging enough to make conversation with someone you barely know, let alone with strangers living on the street who may have, well, severe challenges of their own.
Our small, five-person team joined up with volunteers (ages 12-75), from three churches -- one from Alma, Ga., which drove eight hours round trip to help out. We cooked hot dogs, made vegetable soup and sandwiches, then loaded the vans with boxes of food, bottled water, Bibles, blankets, clothes, books, and reading glasses. (I never stopped to think that a homeless person might appreciate a good book and a pair of glasses to read it.)
The Hickory Flat team leader, Craig Sollenberger, gave us a thorough orientation before we headed downtown and the set up on the streets was easy under his direction.
As the Lord would have it, I was assigned to the first station at the head of the line. With my fellow Ebenezer team member, Shelly, we dispensed basic hygiene bags (soap, new socks, toothbrush, paste, and safety razor), as Jeannie, from Alma, took prayer requests.
Greg, Brian, Stephanie, Tony, George, Glenn, Ashley and dozens of other homeless men and women (one with a baby in her arms) asked for prayers. Prayers for a job, prayers for a home, prayers for their loved ones to “have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
They offered prayers of thanksgiving for the good weather, prayers of thanksgiving for getting a job after going back every Monday for 10 weeks. They prayed for a safe place to live, for Jesus to protect them on the street, for the grace to see another day. They gave thanks for the food we brought and asked the Lord to bless us for bringing it.
As I listened to their prayers, I realized that the people who stood in front of me weren’t the junkies and alcoholics I had imagined. They were my brothers and sisters in Christ. A layoff, a bad decision, or a poor choice stood between us, not God’s love or His desire for our abundant life.
Later, at Hurt Park, as I looked down the line of polite, but hungry people that stretched silently down the block, I was worried that we might not have enough food to feed them. Craig confided that somehow it always worked out. And it did. We gave the last hygiene bag and food to the last homeless person we saw on our final stop near the Capitol.
We listened to, prayed for, laughed with, and fed 150-180 men and women on the streets of Atlanta. But, most importantly, we looked each person in the eyes and shared Christ’s love in a way that allowed them to maintain their dignity.
It was a blessing to me, and I hope, a blessing to God’s children who we were there to serve.
I can’t wait to do it again next month.
For more information about volunteering with the Hickory Flat UMC Homeless Ministry, the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month, please contact Craig Sollenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.