How to Help on a Local Level

We hardly see them anymore, the poor. People, holding signs, dot intersections throughout the metropolis and far into our Denver suburbs. Our eyes slide over them, dodging their faces. We don’t have cash. We can’t always help. Borne of discomfort, the voice inside oozes skepticism, “What will they spend the money on anyway?” Yet a crises occurs within because a small voice whispers, “That could be me.” The cold glass cracks as my window inches down.

And when it is winter, a burden of truth falls over our hearts. Nobody stands in this weather, banging naked hands against their knees, because it is easier than getting a real job.

When I was eight, my mother arranged to meet a homeless man outside Byerly’s, a grocery in Minnetonka, MN, every Friday. If he was sitting on the green bench, she’d wave. We shopped and then handed off a loaf of cinnamon bread and a fat bunch of bananas – a replica of our family’s Saturday breakfast. My sisters and I watched behind locked car doors as she’d pass him the bag. I remember his gnarled fingers rucking plastic and his eager smile, but I never saw him eat anything. I worried about him after we moved away, off to midland farm country where we rarely saw the poor, or where everyone was poor enough to render it unrecognizable.

Maybe I was just raised this way, or maybe my empathy didn’t slough off properly, but I still think of ways to help. These are my favorites:

  1. Donate food and used items directly to your local pantry. Ask for a tour. See what they use most and why. It may shock you the breadth of services they provide and the number of people they’re helping year round, especially during a pandemic. In Jeffco, the Action Center is shocking well stocked and funded, but it still isn’t enough. Volunteer, if you can. You will really get a new understanding of the range of people being served. Because of COVID, they’re offering virtual tours.
  2. Smile. It’s okay to show teeth – it’s not a gateway for more! Panhandlers are used to being ignored. Wouldn’t that eat away your confidence and self worth? It’s unnecessary. Your kindness is free, even if you can’t give more.
  3. Reach out. Be the neighbor who volunteers to grab the mail or water the plants. Invite the single lady to brunch or see if the family next door wants to bike together. Get off of the NextDoor app, where people mostly gripe and spread fear, and meet actual neighbors in the flesh. Strong communities are built on hands extended in friendship and good deeds exchanged. This requires face time, yes, even in your mask.
  4. Volunteer with Impact. Impact, a volunteer organization started by Travis Smith in 2010, organizes, prepares and hands out sack lunches directly to the homeless every month. It’s super hands-on. It costs you $20 (to sustain this mission) and two hours to pack hundreds of lunches, one day per month. Find out if you can volunteer by visiting
  5. Grab one item. You’re grocery shopping and there’s a woman on the road with a sign up. Stop and talk to her. Ask what one thing she most needs from the store, and then grab that for her. People have asked for oranges, Cheetos, hot dogs. One man asked for a warm ham sandwich. These are doable, small things if you have an extra few dollars and don’t like handing out cash.
  6. Make “We Care” Bags for the Homeless – this is easier with several families to share costs and shopping duties – and hand them out around town. (See next post for what to pack.)

With these efforts, I’m hoping to raise kids who care, whose culture-roughened hearts will still see the unfairness and be tugged into action by people with less.

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