Every year I look forward to the holidays as a time to be with my family and friends, to laugh and talk in cozy houses that smell like fresh pine and warm spices. I can’t wait to hear the first brassy tones of carols filling the air, and oh boy do I dream about the cookies, the pies, the hams, the mulled wine and cider, and the special occasion breakfasts.
But yesterday morning we had our first snow. And although I was already whimsically imagining snow angels and hot chocolate, I was also thinking about the record number of people experiencing homelessness in our country—and particularly those in the New Haven area. I couldn’t help but ache for the folks who were expecting another month before things got really bad outside, some of whom have been living outdoors for years, others who are fearfully expecting their first winter of nights spent sleeping on the streets.
With the economic situation stubbornly refusing to improve, more and more people are losing their houses and their jobs and ending up in shelters and on the streets. More than ever before, families will be experiencing this holiday season without all those things I lovingly reminisce about and look forward to all year long.
And, sure, I donate to the annual food drives at church and at school, and I give money to my favorite organizations. But somehow, that never really feels like enough.
This year, I am so incredibly inspired by the youth of the New Haven. Tonight, kids from seven congregations are gathering to set up tents and cardboard box-shelters and spend time outside in the cold, in order to better understand the difficulties of homelessness and to raise money for local shelters. They are eating a simple meal of soup (Mom, I made them your chicken noodle!) and bread, and spending the rest of the night engaging in service projects like making lunches to hand out to homeless folks tomorrow, or making fleece scarves to be given as holiday gifts.
These kids could be nestled up at home watching Glee, or hanging out at the mall, but instead they are coming together (of their own volition) to take part in discussions about what they want to do, as youth groups, about the rising problem of homelessness. And, they are trying to raise awareness among their congregations and their communities. Homelessness, they keep saying, is not just about adults and it’s not just about the big city. It’s about all of us.
This is an important thing for us to remember, particularly as we gather around our own annual feasts (which may, admittedly, be a little bit smaller this year). I am not sure, yet, what I want to do differently this year. But I feel like I’ve got to do something.