One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the basement of my family’s church putting together a 1000 piece puzzle with a group of previously homeless men. I say they weren’t homeless at the time because they were a part of a transitional organization called CARITAS (which stands for Churches Around Richmond Involved to Assure Shelter), and my church was their home for the week.
As I grew up, I really looked forward to the time I got to spend with these men. They were so grateful for the warmth from being inside but even more for the warmth from our hearts.
Helping them helped me. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. And although it was only 1 or 2 weeks a year, that led me to write my senior thesis on homelessness and helped to shape the “don’t-know-until-you-walk-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-shoes” outlook that I carry today.
My 7-year-old has always been an old soul at heart.
Yet knowing that, he constantly surprises me. This time it was with his depth of compassion.
Every time he saw a homeless person on Broad Street, he asked me for money. I tried to explain to him how I preferred to give my money to our church and give my time to CARITAS rather than give those on the street money. Each time, the conversation got a little longer, a little more challenging, and I found my own thoughts being dissected.
As I tried to defend why I didn’t offer money to the people on the street (who knows if they will use it how they say they will), I found that I was making assumptions about their need—exactly what I was teaching Cooper not to do. My 7-year-old challenged me innocently and respectfully, and I realized in these conversations that perhaps this was mine to do.
Together, we came up with a plan.
Cooper had been asking for weeks to build a lemonade stand with his dad, and this would be the perfect way for him to earn money to help the homeless people he sees every day. Instead of only giving money, we came up with a list of items that most homeless need (like chapstick, a clean pair of socks, snacks) and even had Grandad consult our friends at CARITAS to see the greatest need.
Cooper spent weeks preparing.
He took this so seriously. He wanted the lemonade to be perfect and from fresh lemons. He spent weeks making lemonade and taste testing. We made signs and advertised.
People who don’t even go to our church found out and joined just for the lemonade (and to support his cause). Some didn’t even want the lemonade; they just wanted to support his big idea. And he made over $100 and used the money to make 30 snack packs.
Now, we keep “Cooper’s Snack Packs” in our car for when we see people on the street. My son feels better knowing he worked hard to help. And you know what? So do I.
You can make your own Snack Packs!
You can make your own snack packs for about $3/pack. Here is what we put in Cooper’s:
- Clean pair of socks
- Breath mints (for dry mouth)
- Pringles (for sodium)
- Slim Jims (for protein)
- Fruit Cups (for vitamin C and sugar)
- Granola Bars
- $2 for a cold drink
- And a letter from Cooper, telling his story
The Butterfly Effect
The most amazing part of this is not that I started volunteering when I was a kid, or that my kid does, or that even my 7-year-old built a lemonade stand for community service. The most amazing part is the butterfly effect. His compassion has challenged me and my husband to rethink our judgment and inspire us to be better.
How has your child inspired you to grow or rethink your perspective?
For more information on ways you can help the homeless in Richmond visit: