Recently I volunteered with the Friendship House of Delaware at their “Saturday Morning Sanctuary” and I don’t think I will ever forget my experience. I didn’t know what to expect going into it. We entered a church in Wilmington at 8:00 in the morning to find homeless people sitting at tables, playing games and talking to each other. Some of them wouldn’t take their eyes off us. Bill, the man in charge of the event, told us that the Friendship House was an organization dedicated to helping the homeless. Every winter, they open up churches to let homeless people in to have a warm, safe place to stay on Saturday mornings. Pretty much everything was donated: coffee, tea, hot chocolate, pastries, hats, gloves, and board games. Our job as volunteers was to simply talk to the people who were staying in the church for the morning and make them feel like they are being treated like “human beings,” as Bill said. It made me a bit uncomfortable to hear him say those things right in front of all of the homeless men and women sitting nearby. Could you imagine someone talking about you like that? How must these people feel, knowing that they are not seen as important enough to be treated like human beings by some people?
Bill brought me and the two other volunteers to a few people who he knew were friendly and were comfortable sharing their situations with volunteers. I spoke to a man named Peter for most of my time there. The stereotypes of homeless people are so ridiculous; the idea that they are all just crazy people who were not motivated enough to keep up a stable lifestyle is completely untrue. Peter is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He is always reading and is interested in knowing about current events and what is happening in the world, which is more than I can say about most of my peers at the University of Delaware, honestly. He is passionate about music and about languages and traveling and movies and he even recommended some films that he thought I would enjoy watching. I also met a man named Michael who was one of the friendliest people I have ever met. He walked over to me and asked if I wanted to play dominoes with him, and we played game after game. He always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell.
I feel like people wouldn’t expect these things from a homeless person. So they don’t have a home. Why should that take away a person’s intelligence, kindness, dignity, or their humanity? Some of these people have dealt with horrible things – depression, suicide attempts, incarceration, divorce – and I think it is disgusting to look down upon them for their economic situations.
At around 11:00, Bill announced that the church would be closing and that everyone would have to leave. I said goodbye to my new friends, and was filled with sadness as they left. Where will they go now? What is going to happen to them? It was so cold outside and while I had the comfort of knowing in the back of my mind that I would end up in my warm on-campus dorm, these people did not have that privilege. It makes me so angry to think about how unfair it is that some people in this country have millions of dollars just sitting in their bank accounts, while other people are out on the streets with just a backpack to hold all of their belongings. We live in such a cruel world. But all I know is that I made a difference to Peter and Michael for one morning. I offered them a smile and some friendly interaction, something that Bill said they do not usually have due to their living situations. I gave them a few hours in which they could forget about their own lives and just have a friend that they could play with and talk to. Something as simple as that can truly mean a lot to someone.
I plan on volunteering with the Friendship House more often at their “Saturday Morning Sanctuary” events and I hope that I have convinced other readers to help out as well. Especially during this time of year, it is important to give back and to be thankful for what you have because you never know when you may lose it all.
Heather, Bill, and two other volunteers inside the church.
The list of movies that Peter gave to Heather.