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BIG day at the Drop In

We receive many donations of clothing at the drop in and we invite folks to help themselves to whatever they need.  From time to time we are presented with genuine needs that go far beyond any donation.

Jimmy takes a size 15 boot and has difficulties finding this size anywhere in the city.  Bill has a rather large circumference and has the same problem.

I approached Bill and told him we could help.  If he would like, we could go to a big box store and he could get a couple pair of pants.  He declined, saying that his sweat pants were serving their purpose quite well, and that there was no need – perhaps I could find someone who was really poor and who needed it.  After some further conversation, he hesitantly admitted, well, he might be able to use some 52” waist trousers given that his other pair of pants were shorts (and he had been wearing them this winter!!)  He was too shy to come with me, but if I went to the box store, he would need 52” a (not 50”) waist.  I asked if we should do a measurement just in case, but we couldn’t find a measuring tape.

Final words, “Fifty-two.”

“No problem”, I replied, “You wait right here.”

South on Bank Street, and my two BIG questions (nice pun!) at the box store, “Do you have 52” waist pants and size 15 warm winter boots?” was answered in the affirmative.  Back to the drop in.

I discretely passed Bill the inside out bag with two pairs of pants and suspenders, and encouraged him to go try them on for size.  “Are they 52?” he asked. 

“Yes, they are.” 

“Then they will be fine, thank you very much.   Fifty-two’s will be just fine.  Thank you very much.”

“It might be good to try them, just in case.  Sometimes store measurements can be a bit off,” I proposed, and, after receiving a somewhat hesitant affirmation, I went off to find Jimmy.  Word got out that I had been looking for him, and he was waiting when I returned.  Before I told him about the new boots he mentioned that his feet were wet and cold from the snow, and size 15 were not common.  I told him that was just what I wanted to talk to him about.  He welcomed the news and we went to the car, and he tried on the boots right there. 

“Are these size 14?” he asked.

“No, these are size 15 – hey, here’s the tag,” and showed him the big ‘15’ on the box.

“Hmmm, nice.”

I passed him one of the boots and he asked for the other.  “My left foot is bigger,” he explained.

Long story short, the left foot was a bit tight, but the right fit perfectly.  He was very pleased and thanked me profusely.

Back downstairs to see how Bill made out. When I was only just in sight, he yelled, “Good one Ken!  Thanks to Lord too,” and explained how the pants did not fit properly – maybe an inch and a half too short of buttoning up. 

“Maybe get a 54 or 55 would be good.  Don’t be shy.  Sorry for the trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” I replied, “Better to find out now and make the exchange.”

South on Bank Street, and now just one BIG question, “Do you have 54” and Matt promptly searched for the right numbers.  “Do you have 55?” I inquired, “that might be better.” 

“If it’s just 1 ½ inch, then a 54 will fit just fine.”

Back again to the drop in – it was almost deserted by this time – and no Bill.  Anybody seen Bill?  He was upstairs getting his hair cut, so all was well.

“Got the 54’s,” I said, “No problem at all.”

“That will be great,” he replied.  “Thanks so much.  I am so sorry for your trouble.  Thank you.”

“Maybe you should just try these on to be sure,” I offered, confident that I had achieved my goal.

“As soon as I’m done.”

Twenty minutes later he came out of the washroom with a concerned look on his face.  “Ken, they only just fit.  Will they shrink?  What if I just hung them to dry?  What if the woman that sometimes helps with my laundry forgets, and puts them in the dryer?  They just barely fit now. And they’re 54’s (sigh).”

“That’s not so bad.  One of our volunteers has a cousin that takes a 60.”  He raised his eyebrows.  I’ll take them back and get the next size up.  Come to the office at noon tomorrow, and we’ll get the right size.”

“I’m so sorry about all this,” he said sadly, ”It is so much trouble.”

“Tomorrow you will have pants that fit properly. You will enjoy them for a long time to come.  It’s worth it to do this right. “

“Around noon then.  Thank you Ken.  Thank you.”

Drop In to our Drop In, New Year’s 2011

A sunny bright first week of January and many greetings of “Happy New Year” were offered from our friends at the drop in.  New Years is just so much better than Christmas.

In addition to the beautiful day, some of our folks were only just receiving their cheques from December (some glitch in the matrix of ODSP/OW) on this day, so it was doubly beautiful (maybe more).

Our numbers are down a bit because of the cheque thing (a typical first of the month pattern), but we have given up trying to estimate our effectiveness through the number of people served a meal.  Instead we count the number of positive interactions our volunteers have with our street friends – more than ‘the Big three’ of news, weather and sports. 

Downstairs, there’s a couple of euchre games on the go, people visiting with each other, relaxed, informal – a nice place to hang out. 

Let’s ‘drop in’ on a few of my encounters with our friends:

I met Bill who is 19 years old and his sister Chaucery (or so I thought, until Bill told me it was his mom), and we chatted.  Two years ago he ran from a fight only to have a severe stab wound in the skull: “See the mark?” he says as he points to the top of his head.  We talked of a few things, but he told me he didn’t want to talk about his father, one time Chaucery’s partner.  Then, after about twenty minutes,   he brought up the topic of his father, and how he had been so severely mistreated.  Usually, among people who have been mistreated as children it is their fathers who have been the primary causes of abuse.  He didn’t want to talk about it, but then he did.  He had been diagnosed with some condition of mental illness (before the knife wound and somehow associated with his father), he explained, and lives with his mom.  Their hydro had been cut off, and it was a good thing I wasn’t part of the blanket-blank agency, or they would have some choice words for me.  They were going to make it, the mom said, because hydro was not their heat source, and their landlord had allowed them to have an extension cord running to a power outlet in the hall.  “We have lots to be thankful for,” Bill reminded his mom.

On the way to the coffee urn, Wayne came in and asked if he could have a hamper to take home with him (before the appointed time for hampers) because the service technician was coming to his new place to hook up a phone that afternoon.  Wayne has undergone a remarkable recovery from alcohol, drugs and the street scene.  He has been clean for over a year now, and has every intention of continuing to improve his life.  After many, many attempts to obtain housing, he now has a place of his own.  I marvel at what he has accomplished against overwhelming odds, as well at his determination to keep on the ‘straight and narrow’.

 Jelica, our managing director, put together a few groceries, while Wayne showed us pictures of his two daughters and grandchildren.  “Wow”, I said, admiring the photographs and smiling, “You don’t look it, but you truly are a rich man.”  He quickly nodded assent and told a condensed version of the powerful reconciliation he recently had with one of his daughters – after being estranged from her for many, many years.

“Thank you so very much for the food,” he said, and put the pictures carefully in the front part of his knapsack, and the groceries in the back.  “I’m off to catch the 12:10 bus.”

As he climbed the stairs out of the building, my eyes met Jelicas’, and there was a simultaneous sigh of gratitude and wonder at this example of a transformed life.  More than words are needed to grasp the deep significance of what was happening all around us. 

It’s all a gift from God, and gifts of God.

These kinds of encounters happen all the time, each one purposefully and intrinsically orchestrated by our Heavenly Father:  each one a display of His splendor .  Mother Theresa coined it well when she said, “We see Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

You should find out how you could be a part of this somehow.  Happy New Years!

Add a Homeless Person to Your Christmas List – II

Merry Christmas!  Just a quick note today, on the eve of Christmas eve, to invite you to do a last minute gift purchase – for someone experiencing homelessness – for someone you don’t even know.  Click on the banner above for more info.

AND, if you would visit www.chri.ca, you can listen to the podcast of the interview I did with the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson.  This is not a political maneuvering or ‘nail him to the post’ interview, but an opportunity to hear our Mayor’s heart regarding the less fortunate in our city: how at an early age, he learned to care, what he is doing now, and some ideas how citizens of Ottawa (and beyond) can become involved.

Take opportunity today and make a donation.  We’ll be sure it gets to where it’s needed most!

Youth Art Show II

The evening the kids have been preparing for had finally arrived.  It was time for the ‘Passion for Youth’ art show at Dominion Chalmers.  There was sufficient space for each artist to choose five pieces of their work to show, and it was a challenge for some to decide.  Hustle, bustle, the staging of sofas and tables from the art room on the second floor, the preparation of the interactive art table where guests could be creative, coffee, tea and snacks set near the entrance all combined to accelerate the excitement and anticipation.

In the end, all was readied.  The stage was set, the players were ready, last minute adjustments to the easels were complete, the live entertainment arrived ( Max and August), and the mood was  set. 

Guests enjoyed the ambiance, the artists and the art work.  Ahh, the art work.  For some of our guests, the time had finally come when the art work that was ‘for display only’ at our auction, was finally available for bidding.  There were pieces of art work that captured hours and hours of devotion, had become a  labour of love, and were now revealed to the public.

But there was something here far greater than what initially captured the senses.  There was a clear demonstration of a Master Artist at work with figures of moving clay.

The real demonstration of art was that of the artists themselves.

Initially, many of these youth never had any idea that they could create anything beautiful at all.  The images of childhood that are so familiar to us were either non-existent or so overshadowed with such painful memories that it would have been better not to have had them at all.  Years of repeated abuse served to reinforce their belief and image they would never amount to anything.  They were told as young children that they were losers, worthless  and discarded and treated as less than animals.  They had eaten from the garbage bins, slept in the bins or wherever they could, experienced cold and discomfort that are beyond description.  They were survivors, despite it all.

Tonight was different.  People they didn’t even know told them over and over again, that they had created something beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that they would like to buy the items and remember the artists.  The youth were the ones encouraging the younger guests and showing them how to hold a paint brush, how to mix the colors, how to ‘let themselves go’ and be creative.  Photos were taken.  The young artists were congratulated for work well done, praised for their choices of color or texture, and one small bit at a time, I believe some changes began to occur.

Maybe the voices of the past were wrong.  Maybe I’m not useless, after all, someone likes what I have created.  Maybe there is something good about me.  Maybe this is not the end.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do something good.  Maybe there is something good about me.

That was the real exhibition of art.  It wasn’t the paint on the canvas, or the music that filled the air: it was living, breathing, young people experiencing hope and a promise for the future.  And, maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to change a life.