A work colleague and friend invited us to help serve a dinner at Tent City on Mercer Island, Washington, near where we live. A number of tents are set up for the homeless community in that area. Various volunteers supply and serve dinner to the residents on a regular basis.
I took my two boys with me who were nine and five at the time. They had a lot of questions because this whole arrangement challenged a number of their common assumptions about how people lived in the world.
“Why don’t they have homes?”
“Why don’t they get food the way we do?”
We talked through reasons people end up in this type of desperate situation and the importance of a safety net for them. I explained that often the only safety net is others who are more fortunate being willing to share some of their time and resources.
The people we served ranged in age from the young to the aged. Many residents were missing teeth or had ripped and dirty clothes. They were genuinely appreciative. I was a bit surprised that they were specifically thankful I had brought the boys. Many said how fun it is to have active, joyful children in their midst.
After dinner, I saw my nine year old holding court with a number of elderly gentlemen who were talking sports in front of a small television set. He was having a great time sharing and hearing stories.
As some of the residents returned to their tents, I heard him tell a few of them, “Thanks so much for coming to dinner with us.” I could see in the expressions on their faces that his simple gesture, treating them as he would guests at our own home, touched them. I hugged him a little tighter as we left to go home because watching that exchange touched me too.
It was a great reminder how treating people with respect and dignity, no matter what their circumstance, lifts them up and you too.