How will we be judged as a society? Missed opportunities?

by | Jan 13, 2015 | Society of St. Vincent de Paul

svdp-logoSVDP member William Graham writes… An article in the January 11th Toronto Star by Frieda Nagel caught my attention for several reasons. Frieda talks about the elderly, shopping-cart-toting man she bought a coffee for and talked to while waiting for the bus. His, and her, concern was where would be spend this cold night. Frieda ended the letter with this statement;

I read once that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, I wonder how we will be judged?   Yes how will we be judged as a society and as individuals? We should ask ourselves this question.

We read of homeless people freezing to death on the street at night. It is mind boggling to understand how we can let this happen. Yet every winter we hear the same story.

Why are people on the street, why are they homeless, why are they hungry? So many reasons but these problems still exist. Did the person give up hope, was there mental illness? Who knows the answer? But do the reasons matter? The only important fact is that this exists and we have an obligation as Christians, individuals and just members of the human race to do what we can to alleviate this. We are our brother’s keeper

What can we do? Maybe we might start by advocating for more shelters, higher Social Service payments, more support for mental illness. Advocacy is most important if things are to change. Talk to your councillor, your MPP, your MP, tell them the person’s story. Maybe, just by stopping and talking to the individual and by inviting them to join you for a meal you can brighten their day and let them know someone cares. Forget that they are dirty and in rags. Look deeper and see the person, look for the face of Christ in the person we will befriend. Remember, they are someone’s brother, sister or parent. If we believe as we, as Christians, were taught, that we are all born equal in the eyes of the Lord and we are loved equally, it will be easy to accept this stranger and treat them as an equal. Often we will hear some amazing stories.

While advocacy is very important, the immediate need is also important. What can you do? The cup of coffee or meal will help. Having Tim Horton or Subway gift cards in your pocket are a great solution. At least they can get something to warm them up. Hey a $10.00 Subway card gets a 12 in sub and two drinks. The 10.00 Tim card gets a bowl of Chili and coffee. Do this openly so others will see it and possibly do the same. Good actions are contagious.

I was in a hotel north of Toronto a few weeks ago. It was a cold night and I was talking to the desk clerk when a middle aged man came in. He was unshaven and in old clothes that weren’t warm enough and looked like a homeless person. He asked the desk clerk if he could stay inside for a few minutes to get warmed up. She glanced at me, probably wondering if I, as a guest, would approve. I nodded and she said yes. I gave him a Tim Horton’s card and the desk clerk said; That was nice of you. I replied that it was nice of her to let him stay. I hoped my actions would soften her heart and make it easier for her to say yes next time.

As I lay in my warm bed that night I thought, couldn’t I have done more? If he were a relation or a friend I would have been able to afford it. Why not him?

I could have taken him to a store and gotten some warm clothes and perhaps some shaving and other supplies and something to put them in. Maybe even a hotel room for the night and he could leave the next day cleaned up and ready for a fresh start.

His knowing that he wasn’t alone in the world and that someone cared might have been all he needed to get out of the spot he is in. It was a missed opportunity for me. As Christians, if we live our faith, we know we will never be short of what we have given. If we are willing to do the work, we know the Lord will provide as He has.

We can advocate in many other ways. A few years ago I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Through the window I saw a raggedly dressed man fish is the outside garbage bin, come up with a half bottle of juice. He kept fishing in the garbage, found another bottle with some in it and poured one into the other and put it in his pocket. When I finished eating I went out but he was nowhere in sight. Another missed opportunity. The thought that came to mind was why was he hungry with an open Tim Horton’s? Would it be possible for a Tim Horton’s or another similar place be able to give the person a simple meal at a cost of perhaps 5 or 6.00 a person? If this happened 20 times in a month it would only be $100.00. Could the store afford it, OR could a Saint Vincent DePaul conference or another food bank support this cost. It is an interesting thought for someone who wanted to advocate to the coffee shop or restaurant owner. We might go a step further and ask the owner to forget the person sleeping in the corner booth on a cold night. Maybe just bring him or her a coffee.

We might have a winter survival kit in the car. It might have a Hat, Gloves, Scarf and Tim Horton or Subway card.

Years ago we did something like this only we had bags for men and bags for women. 250 bags in all. The bags were quite full and had a value of about $40.00 each. We had some great donors that made this possible. The woman’s had small bottles of Tommy Boy perfume and the men’s had shaving soap.. Maybe it is time to start that again.

We are so fortunate when we have the opportunity and resources to help our fellow man.

With all being said we have to recognize that there are so many good people that work hard to provide shelter, food and clothing to so many of our marginalized neighbours in need. We owe them a debt of thanks and our gratitude for living their faith.

William Graham