Imagine it is a hot day, one of those time-stands-still-sweat-pouring-out-of-you kind of days. You go to reach in your bag for the thermos you filled with ice and cold water for your trip. Your hand scrummaging through your purse, at first calmly, and then anxiously as you begin to realize the possibility that in the midst of all of the mayhem, you left the thermos on the countertop. Phew! At last, your hand touches the metal container and a sigh of relief escapes your lips as you open it up for a big gulp of cold, refreshing water.
It is in those simple moments that my heart is filled with gratitude and I often cannot help but say a prayer, “Thank You, Lord, for water.” Sister, let us think together today about the ways that we can help our homeless brothers and sisters to experience a similar relief in the midst of the hottest days of the year when death numbers rise due to overheating and dehydration.
Intentional Homeless Outreach in the Summer
As I offer you four tips for homeless outreach this summer, I invite you to consider the words of Our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew on which the judgment of the nations will be founded:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. // Matthew 25:35-36
Tip Number One
I think we have all been in a scenario similar to the one I asked you to imagine. There is nothing like a nice cold drink on a blazing, hot day. So how do we maintain both ourselves and others less fortunate than us hydrated?
Go ahead and buy some extra bottles of water the next time you do your shopping. Estimate how much is needed for your household and then include some extra for the homeless you may meet or seek out in the coming days.
If you don’t own a cooling bag already, do yourself a favor this summer and purchase one. Usually, the cooling packs that go in the freezer are included in your purchase of the bag. It will be a game-changer for you in the heat.
Not only will it be useful for your usual trips to the beach or sport events, but you can also use this simple bag to be able to offer the homeless in your area a cold beverage to drink. If you are going for a ride around town, keep the bag close to you in the passenger seat in order to be able to easily reach over at a red light where homeless men and women can often be found on a hot day.
If you are more like me and take the train everywhere, find a drawstring cooler bag that is small enough to fit in your backpack or purse or simply make one using a jumbo sized zip lock bag and a gel cooler pack. Then you can have close at hand one cold drink for yourself and one for the thirsty stranger you may meet along the way. Coconut water or lightly sweetened lemonade may be a great alternative to plain water!
Tip Number Two
If you and some friends are gathering for a night at the movies or a stroll through the city, or you are the mom on duty for drop off after the kids’ game, consider packing some sandwiches beforehand which you are able to keep in a cooling container or can quickly hand out (so as to avoid any food spoilage if left out in the heat). This is not something only for the summertime, of course, but here is the tip for this season: add some fruit or extra vegetables!
Because the summer’s heat can lead to dehydration and the electrolytes lost through sweating should be replenished, the human body needs more than water to remain hydrated. Throw in a small container with pre-cut pieces of strawberries, melon, or banana. Add avocado slices in some of the sandwiches you prepare. Include a yogurt that has been kept cool throughout the day–and don’t forget the disposable spoon!
One thing to remember here is that any fruit that is to be given to our homeless brothers and sisters should be fresh, as spoiled fruit can lead to stomach problems and we are hoping to make their summer better, not worse. The fruit should be peeled and cut into smaller pieces since you cannot guarantee they are able to bite down into a whole fruit. I still remember the disappointment in a man on the street to whom I offered a whole apple once. "I can’t eat that,” he said, in spite of his hunger. As he opened his mouth to tell me this, I was able to see why: he was missing his front teeth.
Tip Number Three
Because of the constant sweat our bodies are producing during these hot days, one of the privileges we have that may often go overlooked is the opportunity to change into a new set of clothes. We can go home after an afternoon run in the sun, shower, and put on fresh-smelling, breezy clothes. One way that you and I may consider helping our homeless brothers and sisters during these months is by providing them with extra T-shirts or breezy dresses and wide pants.
If you have the means, you can go to your local clothing store and purchase some items or simply go through your closet and set aside summer clothes that are in good condition. Divide them in bags according to size and sex and have them in the trunk of your car ready to be given away when a need presents itself. Or perhaps you can drive them down to the local homeless shelter or even to your parish which may be a place frequently visited by those who are homeless.
Tip Number Four
Maybe, like me, you need a little more motivation than the powerfully provoking words of Jesus in Matthew 25. The best way to remedy this is to get another friend involved. You can also create a day activity for your children and your friend’s kids as well. Why not make it a big family affair?
I once was a babysitter for a lovely family that held a camp in their home every summer. There was always one day of the week that the children were tasked with preparing sandwiches and cold drinks for the homeless and delivering it to a nearby soup kitchen. A fun idea to get others involved is to set up a weekly, free lemonade stand in a part of town where the less fortunate can also have access to a delicious, homemade drink.
The point is, we are stronger in numbers. If you are not so brave so as to go up to a stranger and offer them a cold drink or a meal, think of someone who is! Ask them to join you one afternoon a week for this endeavor. Perhaps you can propose some of these ideas to your local prayer group or women’s group and could even work through a relevant study together. Maybe your pastor would be willing to make an announcement on Sunday calling for those interested to see you after Mass. The possibilities are endless, we really have only to take to heart Jesus’ words: “You did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
What will you commit to doing this summer for those in need?