Every year, when winter's cold and frosty weather comes home to roost in Birmingham, Alabama, one of our historic facilities opens it's doors and invites all who are homeless to enter for warmth and food each night.
A few years ago, when we opened our doors at The Lighthouse, on a very cold and wet winter's eve, we visited the facility late at night, bearing gifts. We took $1000.00 and bought sandwich meats, bread, chips, desserts and drinks and one of my facility manager's, my son and myself spent all day putting the goodies together in anticipation in providing food to the homeless in the Boutwell Auditorium that night.
My then-husband and I loaded our van with the goodies and headed into downtown Birmingham from Woodlawn and I was so excited. But the reality of the situation really did not hit me until I walked inside the doors and I immediately stopped and looked onto the floors of the auditorium. Cots upon cots were squeezed into every available space and not one was empty. There were so many young children, women and men and even the elderly, sitting on their cots, hugging blankets to their chests, and sleeping peacefully.
I handed off the box of food I had been carrying and let my husband and the Salvation Army's crew that were the sponsors for that night get everything out of the van. I just stood there with tears streaming down my face, as I am doing now as I write this post, not comprehending the vast numbers of homeless that live in our county - and there were more at the doors that the Boutwell just did not have the room to accommodate.
As I walked slowly to the rear of the building, a homeless gentleman lying on a cot with a well worn blanket and small pillow for his head, sat up on his cot and "thanked me" for bringing the food. I was speechless - here was a man who was cold, wet, tired and hungry and thanking me for a small human kindness - me, who had a warm home decked out for the Christmas holidays and I started bawling. I had to leave the building until the sobs subsided and I re-entered.
This was the defining moment for me - so every year since we have provided food for the homeless at the Boutwell as well as going out into our county on Christmas Eve and Christmas to feed the homeless on the streets, under overpasses, in doorways and on park benches, until we run out of food, with our Secret Santa volunteers that keep coming back every year to help us at the holidays.
We can celebrate our personal Christmas festivities when our work is done - for there are too many in need to turn our backs - you can tell, I am a huge Scrooge fan! Mankind is our business!
And for that glorious sentiment, we want to thank all the individuals and businesses - our unsung hero Elves - who had worked their magic for the holidays!
I heard on the radio this morning that over 100 restaurants in our county will provide food to the homeless at the Boutwell this year as the doors will be opened for frostier weather we are having this week.
That is the most wonderful Christmas present for us at The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries and all of my sister agencies combined this year.......those are the presents I love to receive - intangible Christmas wishes sent from Above to help those in need and those that cannot help themselves.
We will be seeing you next week as we travel throughout our county, bearing gifts from all individuals and businesses that have made our dreams come true here at The Lighthouse this holiday season!!!