Thanks to your generosity, the evening was made a little warmer for those in need – some facing the harsh realities of homelessness.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to Cadillac Restaurant for opening its doors, offering sanctuary in its facility, and providing shelter from the cold rain. After departing from the Cadillac Motel, we traveled to Tent City off Triad Lane and passed out much-needed goods to those living on the bank of the Ohio River. We ended our day at The Colonial House Motel (pictured) on Tripplett Street, where the last of our forty-plus totes were depleted.
We also want to express our most profound appreciation to the two churches whose selflessness and commitment to serving others have been a source of inspiration. Despite the inclement weather, they have stood steadfast in their dedication, donating food and helping those in need. Their unwavering support is a testament to the power of community and the boundless capacity for kindness.
In moments like these, we are reminded of the profound truth God provides, not only through the abundance of resources but also through the compassion and empathy within each of us. Through your giving, you have become vessels of divine grace, offering solace and support to those who most need it.
On Friday, January 26th, 2024, the day before, we were scheduled to go out and distribute forty-plus totes of mostly coats, hats, gloves, scarves, and nonperishable food; it was forecasted to rain. Those who were to join us and help out, including my wife Kimberly, expressed concern about what we would do if the rain did indeed come. I firmly believed that if we were doing God’s will, He would provide favorable conditions for the following day, meaning it would not rain.
The morning of Saturday, the 27th, comes around, and I’m up early with anticipation. It started to rain after I had dressed myself for the cold day. I immediately thought, “This must not be God’s will”. Nevertheless, knowing that everything secured in totes on the back of our trailer would be dry, we decided we would head out anyway, thinking that surely it would quit raining once we arrived at what has always been our first destination, the Cadillac Motel. Upon arrival, I found that the married couple from Ridgewood Baptist Church, who had generously agreed to help, had already arrived and parked their van. In the past, we’ve always held these events outside on folding tables in the parking lot. It was pouring down rain. It was cold. Our event seemed doomed.
Next door sat the Cadillac Restaurant. I remember attending bible study there for several months with our close friend, Ms. Patty, who had since then passed, inside a sizable “smoking room” that had not been used since smoking in public restaurants had been banned. I decided to take a chance and make the manager an offer they could not refuse. But God already had that planned out, and the manager agreed to allow us to use the space, even after my firm disclosure that all these people walking inside the building with wet shoes would cause quite a mess. “I guess it’s God’s will, after all,” I thought. The couple from Ridgewood and I quickly started to unload the wet totes from the trailer as Kimberly began to unload the nonperishables from her vehicle. I had not even started to knock on doors yet, and bystanders walking by in the cold rain took notice and began to fill the room, patiently waiting. Meanwhile, more volunteers from Redemption Place Chruch arrived and assisted with unloading while navigating the wet floors that had now become precariously slick.
We didn’t ask for these churches to show up. Or anybody. People choose to on their own. To my detriment, I’ve always believed that if someone wanted to help, they would take it upon themselves. If you’ve got to twist someone’s arm, it wasn’t genuine in the first place.
I figured now was the time to do my insignificant but most favorite part. Knock on doors. Some volunteers asked if they could take the “Motel Side” North of Second Street. I warned them of the one door not to knock on, knowing that my previous door knocking was not well received; they went away. I took the remaining doors on the South side of Second Street. We knocked on every door, except the one, of course.
A couple of doors come to mind. When I worked my way around to one of the doors, a man had exited his vehicle and approached me from behind. With some choice words, he angrily asked why I was knocking on his door. I turned around, and when he saw my face, he recognized me from being there before and quickly de-escalated after I reminded him that we were giving away goods across the street. And that caused me to recall later what Ms. Patty, who once lived on the property, had taught me. She told me that if we were consistent in our efforts, “her people” would grow accustomed to seeing us there and be more trusting. For as long as we had been doing this, it was the first time I thought someone remembered me. But I would later learn that our previous efforts were more engrained than I would have thought. Having moved along to the “Bachelor Appartments” facing Orchard Street, I came across a familiar door, where the resident had been less than receptive to my previous knocking. But not as aggressive as the one door on the Motel Side. For whatever reason, when he opened the door this time, he spoke with me. We’ll call him “J.” Being confined to a wheelchair, he obviously wouldn’t make it quickly across the street for a coat or anything else he needed. So I “took his order” and promised him I would return.
Across the street, I went to the restaurant, where people were now flowing in and out of the door leading to the room we had been blessed with. The room was crammed full of people. There was no way a person could navigate through the sea of standing bodies without their front and back rubbing against another person. Most of the once-organized totes are opened, and the people are rummaging through them, getting what they can. The expressions on the faces of those who showed up to help were priceless, for it was all their first time. It’s kind of like that deer caught in the headlights look. The food and toiletries, at this point, have already disappeared. I asked my wife to help me find “J” a coat, but the pickings were slim. We found one, spotted with paint and whatever else, but it was heavy. I quickly grabbed gloves, a hat, and a blanket and departed for his small room. One of the volunteers asked to join me. It was his first time there helping out. It’s seldom that anyone returns a second time to help. It’s not for everybody. And I say that because there was a time when I would not have been caught dead doing this. It was not until God put Ms. Patty in my path that I even considered walking onto the property. And then she very slowly and gently acclimated me into the world “her people” lived in. It took time. But that’s another account for another time.
My volunteer and I delivered the goods to a grateful “J,” who was more than pleased with what we had brought to him. While we were walking back to the restaurant, he asked me why I didn’t pray for “J.” I wanted to choose my words carefully, so I quietly thought about it momentarily. I explained how I had been working on getting “J” to even speak to me and didn’t want to overwhelm him with the Jahova Witness approach. As I write this, I almost hear a pastor friend telling me, “Well, that’s because you’re weak.”
In comparison to him, I’m sure that’s an accurate assessment. But it’s been my experience that it’s often better to speak about the love of Jesus with your actions than your words. Maybe next time.
Things at the restaurant were starting to calm down. A couple of people from Redemption Place had discovered a family of two adults and several children (if I gave you the actual number, you wouldn’t believe it) living in a one-room apartment that didn’t get any food and were going to return to their room later with some provisioning. Another young adult and her child had taken it upon themselves to help deliver things to those they knew who had mobility issues. The contents of the totes are no longer neatly folded and organized but rather look like an explosion of clothing has occurred. It’s the same thing we see month after month; it is just played out by God in a slightly different way every time we do it. It’s messy, chaotic, and happens so very quickly. We meet a newly married couple who have agreed to accompany us to our next destination, Tent City off Triad Lane.
We pack the remaining totes into the cargo van graciously provided by our friends from Ridgewood and start rolling out the Cadillac Motel parking lot. But my newlyweds are nowhere to be found. I look inside the smoking room, which has already begun to be mopped, and then the restaurant. They’re nowhere. I get into the cab of the truck I used to pull our trailer with, which is wet since the driver’s door leaks, and begin to pull out of the parking lot, wondering how we were going to be received at Tent City without our guides who had previously lived there before renting a room at the Cadillac. Again, I began to doubt that it was God’s will for us to go there, and I began to press on the thirty-six-year-old truck’s accelerator to turn West onto Second Street when someone abruptly knocked on the passenger side window. It’s the newlywed couple. They were standing there in the cold rain. It’s always God’s time, not mine.
I’ve been to tent cities before, but not without someone who had previously lived there and already had a rapport with the residents, so I was eager for them to come. They climbed into the cab with me, and we started down the road just as my old truck’s windshield wipers decided they were done with life and quit working. Oh well. Let’s call the man with his bride “James.” James was wearing a pair of coveralls he had picked from one of the totes and some boots. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he clarified that something in his boot irritated him. He hiked his right foot onto his left knee and casually pulled out a homemade knife. Thinking it would be better for me to make light of the matter, I told him, “Hey, a man’s gotta protect himself. Might as well just put that on the dash and make yourself comfortable”, which he did. James stated that he didn’t want to walk around unarmed.
Upon arrival at Triad Lane, James and his bride started to walk down the railroad tracks toward the entry of Tent City. Although my wife didn’t want me to, I put on additional rain gear, not knowing what the weather might do, and started down the tracks myself. I didn’t get far before I saw a man in jeans and a tee shirt approaching me. We meet, introduce ourselves, turn around, and start walking toward our parked vehicles in a light mist of rain. I inquired about his limp, and he mentioned that he “might have gotten a little frostbite” the week before when temperatures were below zero and then quickly dismissed it as “no big deal.” We spoke briefly about the challenges of staying warm in those temperatures, and he explained that they all slept in a tent with some fuel heat that comes in a canister. I still have no clue as to what he was referring to.
We return to the totes and are soon joined by others from the camp. By now, my wife and the couple from Ridgewood are remaining. Standing around the vehicles I look down and notice the shoes on their feet. Then, the frostbite started to make sense. I saw shoes split out on the sides, with bare skin protruding. No socks. I’ve always found the humbleness of homeless people striking. There was nothing wrong with the people at the Cadillac rummaging through the totes in a frenzy. We want them to do that.
But in contrast, here it is raining. We have the totes in the open on folding tables with the lids on to keep the clothes dry. And these people are cold and wet, asking permission to open them one at a time to see what’s inside. They often ask, “may I have this?” to “Can I try this on”? One man is collecting clothes for a woman at camp who didn’t feel comfortable meeting us, and he claims that she “weighs about eighty pounds.” He’s trying to carry way too much. I encouraged him to take a tote, which he hadn’t even requested. Soon, others are encouraged to do the same.
Before they depart, I ask if we could pray together. The dark side of me didn’t expect much of a response. As if it were instinctual, without any suggestion to do so, they formed a circle around me, and we all put our arms around one another’s shoulders and bowed our heads. I said a few words, which, compared to the theological masterminds I enjoy in the company of church, sounded like a third-grader stuttering out of a linguistic train wreck. But the Bible says God knows what’s on my heart. It seems surreal to me. Supernatural. It was like Jesus was there amongst us, but quietly in disguise. They return down the train tracks toward their home, carrying their totes and wearing their selected coats, gloves, and hats.
We start loading up for our last destination. But where’s James? His bride doesn’t know, only to point in the direction of the woods and say, “He’s over there, somewhere.” They made me promise that I would take them back to the Cadillac, which I was happy to do. Eventually, he emerges from the woods, off in the distance. I could tell he was carrying something. He arrives with a whole chicken wrapped in the packaging you would expect from a grocery store and a 20-ounce bottle of Lipton Ice Tea. James explained that they were gifts from the people living in Tent City as a way of saying thank you for coming. He explained that one of the men had found many of these chickens in the dumpster at the IGA grocery store a few days ago. Since the temperatures had not reached 42 degrees in weeks, I figured they had found a favorable bounty. I don’t know where the tea came from.
In contrast to the rest of the world we live in, I have found that this seems to be a recurring phenomenon within the homeless community. To further examine this, consider the following example. I would observe the homeless on recorded imagery from my store’s outdoor security camera, and some evenings, they would eat from the trash. So, I kept a cardboard blessing box outside with toiletries and non-perishable food inside. And something interesting happened. They only took what they needed. And it was not uncommon for them to leave some gift. For example, a plastic trinket, toy ring, or message on the cardboard blessing box. Are these the same people standing on the side of the road that I once would drive by and think were beneath me?
In comparison, a white sedan started to come by at the same time in the afternoons. Between 2:30 and 3:00. A man in a work uniform from a local factory would exit the driver’s door, pick up the entire box, throw it into the back seat, and then take off. Without opening it to see what was inside. Day after day. I tried leaving notes inside the box, politely asking the man to take what he needed and leave the rest for the homeless. But to no avail. If the homeless person takes just what they need and is thankful, and the working man taking it all without regard to those less fortunate isn’t a clear reflection for you of who we are as a society, I don’t know how much more apparent it can be. My sin-filled self wants to say you’re either one or the other. But Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-5. My dark side wonders what the guy can do with all that toilet paper and baby wipes.
So I drop the newlyweds off, do something that I shouldn’t, and give James a $10 bill for the cigarettes he’s been talking about all day, and we move on to our final destination. The Colonial House Motel on Tripplett Street. In the past, when we went there, Ms. Patty had us park across the street in the convenience store parking lot. I don’t remember why, but she probably had a good reason. Feeling bold about how God had been moving thus far in the day, I pulled up right into the midst of the motel’s parking lot. Kimberley follows suit and parks in her vehicle, as does the van belonging to the couple from Ridgewood. We get out and set up the tables underneath the second-story walkway, somewhat sheltered from the rain. The totes were now wholly disorganized. Although the totes were marked with what once were their contents, were now filled with a mixture of everything. No big deal; that’s just the way it happens.
I’ve never been on this property, so I don’t know what to expect. I do what I do and start knocking on doors. I’m taken off guard by the condition of the rooms, as they’re far worse off than at the Cadillac. Which I didn’t think was possible. Many are vacant, as they do not have window coverings, and it’s easy to see that the rooms have exposed studs where the drywall has been torn off, and there are missing fixtures and dilapidated furniture. Many of the doors have holes where the knobs with locks would have been.
Nevertheless, some people answer their doors and make their way to the totes. Nowhere near the number of people at the Cadillac, maybe a quarter.
By now, our forty-plus totes are down to about four. It’s not unusual to have a little leftover because some items of clothing get donated that nobody wants. It’s the nature of the beast. Before Kimberly and I started this in 2021, we strongly encouraged our pastor to let us start a “clothes closet” at church, but the request was vehemently denied. Repeatedly, without a reason given. Now I understand. It’s a lot of work. Let me say that in a different way. It’s a second full-time job. I won’t recommend anyone do it, but we do it because we find it so satisfying that it’s all worth it. We’re not harvesters, just gardeners.