Everywhere I turned the last couple of weeks, all I heard was “Are you ready for Christmas?”
Which really meant, “Hey, finished with all your shopping?”
And of course I wasn’t. I’d been in a frenzy for the last week trying to get everything bought, wrapped, packed and shipped. That was my priority. Shopping.
Then I got an email, innocently enough, that began to change my perspective.
The email was from Pat Vanderburgh, Executive Director of the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, thanking me for a donation I made at their 2013 golf outing. No request for money. Just a simple thank you this Christmas season for helping “hungry, homeless and hurting people.”
An email like this, right in the middle of all the shopping and all the begging for donations, really struck me.
So much so that I began to wonder if my priorities were in the right place. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe they weren’t.
I thought again about the question of being ready for Christmas, and wondered what would happen if it at least included helping those hungry, homeless and hurting people?
I’ve always thought about volunteering in a soup kitchen, or a homeless shelter, to help serve those in need. Have I done it? Nope. Too busy running around to relatives and friends, drinking and eating up a storm, joyfully unaware that there are far too many people who don’t get to do any of those things.
Which brings me back to the Rescue Mission. The Mission is an independent, local organization whose sole mission is to care for the homeless, the hungry, the abused and the poor.
And the Rescue Mission exits for a very specific reason, as their web site points out: “Milwaukee is the eighth poorest big city in America, with a poverty rate of 29.4 percent. That’s 171,500 poor people in our city. Many are just one bad break away from joining the already 1,500 homeless folks on our streets – and some estimate the number may be twice that high. Ten percent of our workforce is unemployed; for African-American men, that number is an astonishing 34 percent!”
This may not be a surprise. But for most Milwaukeeans not included in any of these statistics, it is all too easy to look the other way, to ignore how bad the problem is. Our city is so geographically segregated that we rarely see the problem first hand.
I get that there is no better sight, no better experience, than watching the exuberance of little kids scramble down the stairs on Christmas morning, squealing with delight at the presents under the tree. Or the look on your loved one’s face when they open that truly special gift.
But I would submit that there might be an equally appealing sight, specifically the gratitude in the eyes of a homeless person as they do something as simple as eat a warm meal. Which admittedly means changing our perspective, even just a little bit.
Of course there are quite a number of places to volunteer, to donate, that would do a world of good for those less fortunate. The Milwaukee Rescue Mission is certainly a worthy one. Take a look, here.
Then maybe next year, when someone asks “Are you ready for Christmas?” hopefully for me there might be a totally different answer.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and your families.