I recently met a man named Pete standing at a busy shopping center corner near where I live. I have seen him there for a few weekends now with his sign: "Homeless Looking for Work." Something about seeing him again this weekend compelled me to stop. I parked my car up the street and walked over to give him a Target gift card and my business card. I let him know that I could help him find agencies
in the area that have programs to help people get back on their feet if he wanted to give me a call. He smiled and thanked me and shook my hand. Wanting to know more about his story, I asked if he was living in or from this area. He said he has set up camp in the canyon but really did not want to tell me more. I wished Pete luck and reminded him I could help find an agency in the area that could help. He smiled again and said "Thank you, Melanie" as I crossed the street back to my car.
I thought to myself—why did I do that? What compelled me to stop this time? I actually felt empty walking back to my car instead of feeling filled with happiness for a good deed done. I started thinking about what long-term good that $15 gift card would really do. Besides maybe getting him through a few more days, it wouldn't do much—Pete did not need my money, he needed a job, independence and stability.
When I got home and walked though my front door I felt sick looking at all the stuff in my house. I couldn't shake the sense of my own powerlessness to "fix" Pete's situation. Whatever factors led to his homelessness were larger than my best intentions as a passerby in his life. Job training, a warm bed, counseling, interview clothes, a phone line for potential employers to reach him at - that was what it would probably take to get him back on his feet, yet realistically, I knew I could never provide all this for him. I wonder how many other more-fortunate people, like me, pass a Pete every day and are too discouraged by their own limitations to reach out.
Fortunately, there's a strong network of nonprofits around the county that provide what I couldn't. Many of these organizations
are members of the Food Bank, and the money they save by getting food from us allows them the freedom to provide the other social services they specialize in, giving the kind of "hand up" that will provide long-term solutions for OC residents like Pete.
I will probably never know what drove him to that street corner, or whether he decides to utilize some of the services our agencies provide. But knowing that support is out there - and with our help, will continue to be - is what brings me to work each morning.
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