Simple Charity

A student serves meals at a ministry center in Oklahoma. (CNS photo/Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic)
The other day I was buying some food from a food truck and I noticed a homeless man sitting by the truck playing his guitar. I bought some extra food to give him as I walked back to my car. As I stopped to give him the food and tell him to have a good night, he grabbed my hand and asked me to listen to his song. So I did. I sat next to him and listened to the love song he had written. And then he talked to me for some time about the lady the song is about. He didn’t look twice at the food and seemed to have forgotten about it by the time I headed home.

I forget sometimes that charity isn’t complicated. This man didn’t care too much about food. He was just really, really lonely. He was heartbroken and just wanted to chat about it. I can relate. I remember being in college and needing to talk to my friends for — I’m sure for them — agonizingly long periods of time about my latest heartache. This man just wanted to feel love. Just wanted someone to sit with him for a bit. Just wanted to feel human.

Charity really isn’t all that hard. I mean, it is hard to get over ourselves, over our discomfort, over our feelings of inconvenience, over our feelings of not having enough time or money. But it is very clear when we need to charitable. We are faced daily with so many needs. What is easy about it is that it just requires a response. A simple response.

There is a guy on the corner asking for money in the rain — he needs an umbrella. There is a coworker that no one likes that is frequently excluded — invite that coworker to lunch. There is a mom struggling to get her kids in the car and groceries in the van — help her load the groceries.

I know my experience at the Catholic Worker makes its way into a lot of my posts, but what struck me most about my time there was how easy it was to help people. Of course the work is not easy. It is draining and challenging, but our job was simple. People come to us with needs and we do our best to meet them.

Someone came to the door needing help to buy uniforms for their children for school. Bam! We saved uniform pieces from donations all year and had a huge uniform distribution right before every school year. Someone came to the door just arriving from Honduras with no place to stay. Bam! We have a room for you. Please come in, rest, eat some food, and feel safe. Someone came to the door needing medical attention but was undocumented and could not qualify for Medicaid. Bam! We have a free clinic you can come to tomorrow morning and have our volunteer doctors see what they can do.

When I think of some of the amazing organizations that are truly changing the world, they all started small. St. Louise House here in Austin was started by a group of women at a parish that saw a lack of support for homeless women and children. They grew to be an amazing place that now houses many families and offers many avenues of support to get these families back on their feet. Casa Juan Diego started when Mark and Louise Zwick saw many refugees coming from Central America back in the 1980s that could find no shelter. So they bought a little place and started sheltering them. Now, with the help of the Holy Spirit and lots of volunteers, their services have grown drastically because of the needs of the people that come to them have grown drastically. Or Liz Burton-Garcia who one day realized that God was calling her to help the uninsured. She had absolutely no background in the medical field and just started doing a lot of research into starting up a free clinic. Just last year she was able to open a clinic on a church campus in her town that provides care for people with no medical insurance.

All of these places started with some people seeing a need in the community and deciding to respond to it. Does this mean that each of us is going to start an organization that will solve a lot of problems? No, probably not. But who knows what God has in store for us when we start responding to these tugs on our coat asking us to be charitable in that moment. We don’t have to have grand plans. We just have to respond.

What are some ways you are being called to respond?