We have homeless in our little community. Not a lot, but we have them. People are homeless for lots of reasons; loss of job, drug or alcohol issues, mental health issues. Some are homeless for a long time, some for just a little bit. Many move on when they find we don’t have a shelter or a support system for those without a place to live. However, we have a few who choose to be homeless and spend their days and nights on the streets of Columbia. It is their choice, thier way of life and for most of us, it is hard to understand.
Take Harold for instance. He has been living out of his car for years and has spent the last 6 months here in Maury County. He used to live in Tullahoma but didn’t like it and recently relocated to our wonderful community. He likes it here. He says people are nice, they don’t look down on him, they help him but mostly they let him be.
Harold receives disability, he has a car but no home. He says one day he will find a place he can afford but right now he is fine. There are lots of places to park his car and sleep. He takes advantage of the People’s Table meals and other food banks in our area. He is not worried about the impending cold weather, “I will make due” he says. Columbia is his home now.
We have a large bathtub in our public restroom that anyone can use when we are open. We will even provide towels, shampoo and sometimes a razor if we have it. Our shower is used almost daily from homeless individuals that have called Columbia their home or those that are just passing through. About once or twice a week Harold uses our shower as well.
He brings his own towel and toiletries. His clothes are folded neatly or sometimes hanging on a wire hanger. He doesn’t ask for anything… just warm water to wash the weeks worth of grime off him and a few kind words from staff and volunteers.
Last Friday, Harold came to use our shower, armed with his toiletries and clothes. Usually he walks by my office and just waves but this time he stopped in my doorway.
“”Are you the director?” he asked.
I hesitated, smiled and said, “Yes, I am”.
When you get that question in a nonprofit, you never know what is going to follow… It could be an angry client, a donor that wants to ask about the agency… or maybe the toilet is backed up. Because you never know what to expect that question always leaves me a little apprehensive.
I could never have imagined what Harold was going to say after I answered. I didn’t know I was going to be left with tears in my eyes because of this wonderful, sweet, homeless man.
Harold pulled out a paper bank envelope and slowly counted out his last $23.00 and said, “I saw you were collecting turkeys from the newspaper, I want to help, I want to buy someone a turkey.”
Harold handed over the money but I didn’t take it. I know I stood in my office with my mouth hanging open. Complete shock emulating from me. I did not reach for the money.
“Harold” I said, “You are homeless, you cant give me any money. You need that money.”
Harold took a step toward me still holding out the money.
“I saw the article in the paper, I want to help.” he said, “It is not Thanksgiving unless you are eating turkey and watching the ball game, I want to help someone do that.”
“You’re homeless” was all I could say to him.
He smiled, still holding the money out. Eventually I took it… I think I said it again, “Harold, you are homeless”.
He turned and headed toward the shower leaving me to hold his last $23.00, the money he wanted to give to someone else so they could eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The man doesn’t have a place to lay his head at night, no where to make himself a meal, no where to call home yet he wanted to help someone else… he wanted to help The Family Center help someone.
I am not going to lie, I cried. I stood in my office holding his money and cried. What a completely selfless act, How could he do that? How could he think of someone else during his trials and tribulations? HE IS HOMELESS for goodness sakes, he needs this money!
I sighed, wiped away the tears and sat down at my desk, still holding his money. Again I said, “Harold you are homeless” but he didn’t hear me, he had already started the shower.
I don’t want to spend his money, I don’t want to deposit it… I want to frame it. I want to use the money to show people how someone with nothing can still find the means to help others.
I wont though, I know Harold would be upset if I didn’t do what he asks. I will buy a turkey with this money and I will give it away on November 17th with the other 399 turkeys. But I will know, that one turkey will mean more than any of the others. Because he was homeless yet he gave all that he had to help someone else. I am still so amazed.
We will make sure Harold has some place to get a meal on Thanksgiving. He will get a personalized thank you note from me and we will continue to show him the love and kindness he has grown accustomed to in our wonderful community. But there will be something different about this year’s giveaway, this Thanksgiving will have a different meaning thanks to Harold. He thought of others, we will think of him.
For a long time!
This is giving… this is love… this is Maury