the idea of volunteering at a soup kitchen has been sitting in the back of my mind for a few years now, tapping at my door, getting louder and louder each month. i purposely opened that door and set the idea on my 30/30 table in case any of my dates have been wanting the same thing. fingers were crossed. the idea of having someone just as clueless walking next to me through those doors gave me a sense of comfort. i'm sure fear of the unknown and fear of that cold-hard reality is partially to blame for my hesitancy to go at it alone, although i hate to admit that i still let fear drive sometimes.
if i look at it from a different angle, though, i also believe that another stopping factor is because i'm still preparing for it mentally. once i dive into that separate universe, i'll never be the same... because that one small day of volunteer work is going to open up into a huge lifestyle change for me.
i grew up in a secluded box with no real idea or connection to homelessness. even when i moved to Omaha, Nebraska, i remained unexposed and blind.
when i sold everything i owned to travel the western half of the states, i was forced to pay attention. once my eyes were open, i vividly remembered an instance that happened when i was nine: while visiting family down in Tucson, Arizona, we traveled across the border and i remember only two things about that one day in Mexico: 1) picking out a pinata for my birthday and 2) the homeless community was overwhelming. i wonder if my father remembers the begging- not just theirs, but mine as well. i wanted to be able to help them out so badly; their faces were covered in so much hurt. his very adament "no" left me feeling so helpless and defeated. his explanation was that if we gave change to some, they would all come and swarm us. i recognize now, that even back then, i didn't feel right about that attitude. after this realization, my heart opened up and i made some conscious decisions...
...like the soup kitchen. date #19 had perused the list that i had laid out and picked up this specific one, but when he called multiple places to see if it was possible to volunteer, he came back with bittersweet news. either you had to have proper training or they had enough helpers for weeks. i just can't be disappointed about that.
my fix-it suggestion was to wander around on a driving adventure, dispersing my newest project. i told him that my idea was born after reaching the point where i just couldn't hand out any more cash to the homeless, but i didn't want to stop giving. this desire to help has grown into a passionate urge to be a catalyst for transformation, therefore my project was dubbed "art for change." i've been handing pieces of my art out to the homeless and telling them that they can give it to someone of their choosing in exchange for any amount of money. i explain to them that if they need to trade it for a quarter, then they should go for it. if they want to hold off and hopefully get more, that was their decision. i'm hoping that since the recipients are able to physically take something home with them, they'd be willing to give a little more than they have in the past. another goal is just raising awareness. i know so many people who are quick to pull the shades as they drive past, wanting to ignore the obvious issue. they convince themselves that a) they wouldn't be able to make a difference, b) if they gave money, it was just going to be used for alcohol/drugs, or c) they're a scam artist. while sometimes these things may be true, if we keep averting our heads, nothing will ever take a turn for the better. also- the physical interaction that takes place through this project is really important to me. the small bond that i make through the hand-off is enough for me to keep going, and think about how that bond continues on to the second trade!
so i'm curious to hear what happened inside date #19's head and heart as we scattered art across the city's streets. i could tell that at first he was struggling with not having a specific route mapped out, but i think i eventually got through to him; there are no rules, there is no wrong way. we didn't have to be anywhere at a specific time and i had no expectations of my driving partner. i didn't really know what i was doing either! he actually started handing the art out and it was nice to sit there and just study reactions and listen to him describe his point of view of my idea. i still have yet to perfect my approach and i really appreciated another ear to give me any tips or feedback. it feels weird to say that i have an "approach" when i'm not selling anything, but i want to be careful not to offend anyone.
it was slightly rough trying to balance talking about personal subjects and also stay on the lookout, taking note of every little thing. i hope he doesn't mind that i don't remember much about his past... what i noticed more than anything was that he was patient and had an open mind. and at the end of it all, we stopped outside of the shelter downtown so he could give out a dozen pink roses. at this point i probably should have asked him if they were originally for me because i thought he had said something about them in the beginning, but roses make me feel all awkward, so i didnt let him know that i was confused. sorry #19, that's my confession.
best part of the date: connecting with someone through giving
best part of the day: seeing the reactions
worst part of the day: maybe me hiding the fact that i felt awkward because of a nice gesture.
worst part of the date: when i asked if he wanted to do something quick before i had to get home and back to work, he replied with "since you put it that way, i'll take you home." at first i thought maybe he was being too harsh, then i felt horrible because maybe i sounded like i didn't want to spend that much more time with him, then i realized he was probably just being perceptive and i was thankful for his straightforwardness.