Today, I saw a heartbreaking story online. Have you heard of Humans of New York? It’s a website that is made up of pictures and snippets of stories. A photographer goes around the streets of NYC and asks people questions. And in the few sentences he gives us, we see people’s hopes and dreams, best and worst memories, insecurities, fears, triumphs … it’s fascinating. It’s a fantastic reminder to always be kind to strangers, because we never, ever know what lies beneath the surface.
Right now, Brandon (the photographer) is touring Pakistan, and on my Facebook feed this morning, I saw a sobering picture of a crying woman holding a small child, and this chilling quote: “I left an abusive relationship and I have nowhere to go. I have Hepatitis C, so no one is willing to take me in. I don’t know how long I will live. I tried to give her up for adoption so that she’d have a good home. The wife of a minister told me about a place where I could drop her off. But when I got there, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
Within minutes, there were thousands of people speaking up. “How can I help?” “Is there a GoFundMe page set up for this woman?” “I wish I could do something!!” On and on and on the comments went. And I was right there. I anxiously watched HONY’s Facebook page, hoping that they would post a link that gave me an opportunity to help this woman.
As I waited, I had a thought.
How many people in my own area are faced with problems just like this?
Now one point I’d like to make clear: I have no problem AT ALL with helping people in distant countries. I am passionate about several international aid programs. My family sponsors two young boys in Colombia, and I sponsor a sweet young mother in Kenya. I love these young people I’ve never met. I pray for them. I believe that we should help wherever our heart pulls us, and my heart pulls me to Compassion International and The Mercy House.
But still, the question remained in my mind: how many people in my own area need my help today?
As I’m waiting to see how I might be able to help this woman on the other side of the world, how many people within a few miles of me need help right now?
There’s a women’s shelter in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve taught those wonderful ladies. They need support.
There’s a hospital for low-income families in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the homeless camped nearby. They need support.
There’s a shelter for homeless teens in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve brought donations and toured the facilities and talked to the director. They need support.
There are problems right in my neighborhood. There are people who need me.
There are problems right in your neighborhood. There are people who need you.
So for this week’s service challenge, I want you to choose an area in your community that needs your help. If you’ve been around this site for a while and participated in our service challenges, you know what to do. 🙂 But if you’ve never done anything like this before, don’t be nervous – it’s really simple. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
* If you don’t know where to start, ask around, open the phone book, or just do an internet search for “homeless shelter” or “women’s shelter” or “food pantry” or “animal shelter” and your zipcode. I just did that (I searched “shelter” and my zipcode), and discovered a family shelter that’s only 10 minutes away from my house. (I recently moved – just to the city next door – and I’m discovering new things all the time. I love participating in these service challenges with you – they help me learn so much!)
* When you’ve found a program in your area, call them or see if they have a website. And find out what their greatest needs are! You can do that in a variety of ways … “I have $10 to donate. What do you need today?” “What items do you run out of quickly?” “Are there any items that my friends and I might be able to share with you?” “Do you need volunteers?”
* And then … get to work. 🙂 Bargain shop (for a few budget-stretching tips, check out this post). Show up and volunteer. Gather your friends and have a blessing bag party. Even if you only have 5 minutes right now, that’s enough time to find a local shelter, learn their greatest needs, and share on social media. You can check out this post if you need a little more inspiration.
As I was writing this service challenge, I stopped to re-read our shelter challenge from nearly a year ago. I wanted to share these thoughts with you again.
Once you know what the needs are in your community … well, you won’t need me to tell you what to do after that.
You might realize you have an extra $5 you can donate.
You might pass by a clearance rack at Target and notice an item that’s on your shelter’s “urgent needs” list.
You might realize that you have a few hours you can use to volunteer.
You might grab an extra box of granola bars the next time you’re at the store. Or maybe an extra pack of socks, or a bottle of laundry detergent.
You might decide to take some donations to a shelter for homeless teens, and while you’re there, you might realize for the first time that right in your city, there are teenage girls who are selling their body for food. You might realize that you had absolutely no idea that there were people in your very city who are so absolutely desperate. You might get angry – FURIOUS – that this is the reality for so many. And when your fury subsides a bit, you might realize that you might not be able to fix all of the problems in your community, but you are able to donate a bit of food. And with that bit of food, someone will be able to eat tonight without resorting to desperate measures.
A broken, defeated woman might be able to take a shower tomorrow morning and start to feel a little bit more feminine because you donated a bottle of nice shampoo to the shelter she has fled to.
A man might be able to button up his new-to-him dress shirt (that, as of yesterday, was hanging in your closet) and go off to a job interview, confident that he looks professional and competent.
Tomorrow someone might read your Facebook post … “Hey, local friends – did you realize that we have a women’s shelter that’s at risk of closing because they need more donations? Come on – let’s help!” Or “Did you know that our local animal shelter is going to have to put down three dogs this weekend unless they find homes? Anyone need a new pet?” And your friend might realize, thanks to you, that there is a need that he or she can meet.
You can give. You can advocate. You can learn and share. And you can make a HUGE difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in your community.
I don’t know what you’re going to do with this week’s challenge.
But I can’t wait to hear.