Stephanie Hill: Community blessing box is a way to ‘do small things with great love’
“There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help.” — Jan Schakowsky.
“Most people never really sat down and got to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God and it is the same kind of different as us; they just have a different story.” - Ron Hall
A man and woman, both possessing skin as brown and lined as an oak tree, stood at a corner along 6th Avenue in Huntington waiting to safely cross the street. A small boy, perhaps 6 or 7, held the hand of the man, while an impish girl with large eyes, perhaps 4 or 5, held the woman’s. Despite the fatigue in the eyes of the adults, they repeatedly looked down at the children seemingly answering questions and/or giving directions.
As the traffic light turned green, they began to cross the intersecting street as I began to drive toward school. I noticed the parents appeared to cling a bit harder to the hands of their little ones - much as I used to do when crossing an intersection with my own daughter when she was quite young. I continued making my way down 6th Avenue, but my thoughts kept drifting back to that family. Were they homeless? Did they have food? Did the kids go to school? Was the family safe? Where were they going - after all, this part of town is not really known for its family-oriented businesses. I wondered if the kids had toys, books, and/or other children with whom to play.
I am often troubled by images such as this as I travel to and from St. Joseph Catholic School where my husband, John, and I teach. I have frequently wondered how I could help in a tangible, meaningful way. As a veteran educator of 30-plus years, I have seen a wide variety of heartbreaking circumstances - situations that I feel quite certain I would have never survived. It has always been my mission, above all as a teacher, to meet the needs of my students as they come to me, provide them with loving structure and routine in order to not only educate them, but to also reach their heart.
Sadly, over the years, despite not only my attempts, but also the millions of teachers, and other services, across the country, kids’ environment is such a powerful influence that, at least in my experience, very few kids can overcome the situations in which they are raised. That said, “hope is eternal”; and thus, I continue to shine a light on the potential futures each of my students could have with a bit of hard work and elbow grease. Still, I have often wondered what more can I do, especially for the homeless children I see daily on my way to work.
Several months ago, my sister-in-law, Jacki Humphreys, and her husband, Tony, were telling me about a “Blessing Box” on 7th Avenue in front of the fire station. She described it as a type of pantry, where anyone in need, not just the homeless, can walk by and take what they need. Items such as non-perishable foods, hygiene products, toys, and clothing necessities such as socks, shoes, hats, gloves and so forth can be donated and found there. The box is open 24/7 for the community to fill as their schedule/budget allows, and for those experiencing hardship to take as needed. Yet, like so many other things in life, I became distracted, and the Blessing Box fell off my radar, I am ashamed to say.
Then, Katrina Mailloux, founder and owner of Brown Dog Yoga as well as one of my yoga teacher training instructors, stated during one of our most recent trainings that she wanted our group of 20 yoga-teachers-in-training to do something for the community. Suddenly, Jacki’s words about the Heart to Hand Blessing Box came rushing into my mind. I casually mentioned this to Katrina and the rest of the group. That was all it took, Katrina and the rest of the “2018 Yoga Tribe,” as we often refer to ourselves, were ready to help; and by the next day, my trunk was overflowing donations for the Blessing Box.
Then, once again, life happened, and it would sadly be several days later before John and I found our way to the Blessing Box. My fallibility once again raised its ugly head. Nonetheless, we had finally arrived and went to work filling the box when I noticed on my second trip walking to the trunk of my car, a couple standing a respectful distance from me whom I would later learn were named Dan and Rose. As I walked by, I spoke to them. They immediately thanked me for what I doing. I explained that it wasn’t me, but a whole group of people. (And what I should have added was that I am the one that is flawed and waited nearly five days before I came to load it). On my way from the car to the box, I encouraged them to come join John and me.
Looking into their eyes, I could see the beautiful young woman that Rose once was and the dashingly tall guy Dan must have been. Quite frankly, that beauty was still within them if you were willing to look into their eyes, but it was hidden behind the wear and tear of the streets. We offered them a small Amazon box that we had just emptied to fill with supplies they needed. As they talked, I noticed they were missing most, if not all, of their teeth. They shared stories of life on the street - narratives filled with robberies, beatings, and even recently being stabbed for a backpack. They described visits to the ER and showed me recent wounds and past scars. Furthermore, Dan spoke of a preacher in another section of Huntington who tries to help them; however, they have been mugged on that part of town so often, they now try to avoid that area - but it was clear they missed talking to the minister.
To be certain, my mind wanted to go into judgmental role, and I had to keep drawing my focus back to see Rose and Dan as the small children walking into a teacher’s classroom years ago. Inside, that is who they still were at their essence. In my mind, this was worth remembering as my education experience has taught me that no child has ever stepped foot in my classroom and stated, “When I grow up, I want to be homeless, mentally ill, and/or addicted to drugs.”
Dan and Rose seemed afraid to take more than what they thought was their “fair share.” As Dan stated, “There are others who have it worse than us.”
Rose focused on taking a few feminine products for self-care as well as personal hygiene supplies for both of them, “I haven’t used lotion in so long. This smells so good,” she said. Dan took a box of honey buns, several packages of snack crackers, and toilet paper. “Toilet paper is hard to come by,” he said blushing a bit.
In the end, Dan and Rose repeatedly thank me. I kept telling them that it wasn’t me, but many other people far more thoughtful - I just happened to be the one delivering. Then, Dan looked me straight in the eye and said, “One day, I hope to be in your position.”
Despite thinking, “I am nobody important, Dan.” I heard myself instead saying, “You will be Dan. You will be. You just have to believe and begin to take small steps.”
Hope is eternal.
Walking away, in the opposite direction of which Dan and Rose began to walk, I fought the sea of emotion welling inside of me. My mind went back to a bumper sticker I had recently seen in the Pullman Plaza parking garage, “Do small things with great love.” I realized in that moment, the Heart to Hand Blessing Box was a small thing I could begin to do with great love. I hope to overcome my past shortcomings in my failure to help the homeless. Now that I have witnessed the power of the Blessing Box, and I see how close it is to my school, I have no excuse not to continue to help. I am called to action. What about you?
For more information regarding the Heart to Hand Blessing Boxes in Huntington, visit their page on Facebook; or, read “Blessing box - a blessing to those who give and receive” online at the Herald-Dispatch.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at email@example.com. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.