I was strolling down a shoe aisle at Target, looking for a size 6 toddler shoe for a little girl whose family is homeless and receiving services from the local Reston homeless shelter, Embry Rucker. I found a pair of size 6 sneakers and opened the box. Inside was a pair of shoes, each about 3 inches long. How can someone with such a tiny foot not have a home? My eyes were now filled with tears as I looked around aimlessly at the shoe selection. Does she need boots? Does she need sneakers? Her name is Promise and I have no idea which shoe she needs. And my heart wants to give her anything, everything.
In my daily world, it’s not a situation I’m often confronted with – a child who doesn’t have what she needs. Sure, my kids will sometimes say they don’t have what they want…that they “need” this or “need” that. But they have warmth, they have food, and they each have at least one pair of shoes that fits.
It’s about 25 degrees out today and I’m watching the icy snow come down. Where is Promise? Is she barefoot? I know she has a wonderful group of people at Embry Rucker doing everything they can for her family. Still, the idea of a child not having what she needs gives me a lump in my throat the size of an un-cracked walnut. The kind of whole walnut my grandmother used to have sitting in a bowl on Christmas day when we went to her house. The kind of whole walnut we tried to crack with purely decorative nutcracker figurines and then we were told ever so gently to use a different nutcracker. My throat is filled with that angst and worry for this little girl and any other little girls and boys who are outside on a day like this, without the proper clothing or shoes to keep them warm and safe. And I will be honest, I don’t really know what to do.
Christmas is expensive, and the list is never short enough, or long enough. Even in a network of mostly upper middle-class families, you still hear complaints about how much it costs and are we giving our kids enough relative to their peers? I think we all know it doesn’t matter, that, yes, our kids will have enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the season though, for better or for worse.
I have friends who, because of their professions, are confronted daily with the issue of poverty and potential homelessness. Though they chose these careers to make a difference, and I think they all know they do make a difference, many have grown understandably cynical about the prospects of ever really eradicating these woes. Is it a role for the government? Is it a role for us, as individuals or as communities? What could we do to make sure no 2-year-old child in this country goes without shoes?
Well, I had one thought at Target. It’s not groundbreaking but it’s something we could each do. It would immediately connect us to one another, it would bridge the divide between each of our realities, and it would make a difference. What if, after we’ve made our list every week or every month or every year, we took something off. Maybe we take 3 things off. Maybe it’s 5 if our lists are full of a lot of luxuries. And then, what if we found out what 1 other person needs? Or 3 other people, or 5 other people? And, what if we added them next to the items we’ve crossed off?
The effect of giving is immeasurable in making our hearts grow and lifting our spirits. My mom used to tell me when I was feeling down that one of the quickest ways to get out of our own sadness is by helping someone else. What would it feel like to go shopping for tiny shoes every month, or a few times a year, or every Christmas? Not for a child we’re raising, but for a child nonetheless. It’s true that you may find yourself standing in Target with a shopping cart full of your own tears. But that’s okay. That’s probably just a reminder that we have gone too long without remembering there are people in need… and that we have the power to help them. We all have the power, in some way, to help someone who needs us.