Thursday, June 28, 2012

Help in a Heatwave

Photo Credit
As the weather warmed up in the spring, I started regularly seeing a gentleman panhandling when I went grocery shopping on Saturdays.  His dog was always nearby.  Seeing him, I was reminded of the "extra lunch" my mother used to have us pack so she could hand it out to people in need during her drive to and from work. 

On my way to the grocery store, I never had any food in the car with me and I rarely even have change.  I did what any self-respecting person in an air-conditioned car, talking on her cell phone would do; I averted my eyes and pretended not to notice him.  I remained non-commital as I told myself I'd maybe possibly someday pick up something extra at the grocery store to give him on my way home.

Then, one shockingly hot Saturday in late March, I had Bean in the car and we were heading out for some special time at the grocery store.  I saw the same panhandler, but his dog wasn't there.  I thought aloud, "I wonder where his dog is."

"Whose dog?" Bean asked.

It's a little difficult to ignore someone's existence when your 4-year-old is asking questions about him.  So we talked about why this man was standing in the median, and what his cardboard sign said.  I explained that he likely didn't have a home...but that seemed too abstract.  So I said, "it is awfully hot out there.  But he probably doesn't have anywhere to go and get a drink, or money to buy himself something.  We can drink all the water we want at home.  I hope he isn't thirsty." 

I ended up promising Bean we would get this man some water at the grocery store.

And I forgot to get it.  Bean reminded me as we were heading to the car to make a second stop.  Long story short, we bought him a can of root beer and Bean dictated a note to me and insisted I hand it to the man along with the root beer.

I got a quick picture of the note...

I see this man, or now a second (I think they alternate weekends), every weekend as I go grocery shopping. 

And last Sunday, as I was leaving the library at closing, I saw a group of homeless men and women gather and something in the group caught my eye:  a woman with a tiny, tiny baby.  Probably a baby whose age I would still count in weeks.  I only saw them from across a street and a parking lot, but I would guess this baby was two months old, max.

Last night, The Beast and I were looking at the forecast (which included a 107-degree forecast for Saturday), and he exclaimed, "wow.  People are going to die.  This is bad."

All day this has nagged at me.  Who is going to die?  It won't be me and mine, in our home with plenty of cool water, shade, and even a few a/c window units for comfort.  Nope.  It'll be other people.  Not those I love.  But who?  Are people really going to die?

Sometime around lunchtime, it hit me:  the man to whom my child insisted we give a can of root beer; a mother; a baby.  Where can they get a simple drink of water during the hottest parts of the day? 

So I asked around, and I ended up calling around to find out.  Here in Bloomington, there is a daytime shelter.  I spoke to the director who said they are making sure everyone is leaving at closing with water, but we've got 8-10 days of this heat, and available shelter and water is much less over the weekend. 

At first, I was hoping to donate a little money or volunteer my time but be coordinated by someone else.  When he told me to go to a couple of parks with some bottles of water and hand them out, I was having all kinds of uncomfortable reactions.  (Really?  Just stand there and hand water to strangers?  Homeless strangers?) 

Thinking of that baby, his or her mother, and those men panhandling in the hottest part of the day (will they still be out this weekend, in a heat wave, out of necessity?!?) snapped me out of whatever discomfort.  I asked him what more I could do than hand out bottles of water to whoever happens to be at a park.

So I have a plan.  And I would really appreciate your help. 

The director of Shalom Community Center emailed me a list of all the places to find food in Monroe County, and that included three churches in Bloomington that serve meals on weekends.  I plan to load up my car with water and possibly some umbrellas (for shade) tomorrow morning and take said water and umbrellas to two of the churches.  I will make a delivery to the third church on Saturday.  On Sunday, I will bring bottles of water to the library to hand out as I'm leaving again - or to leave at the nearby park with a note that says "free water," depending on however bashful I'm feeling.

Here's how you can help:
1) If your area is experiencing this heatwave and you are not local, call around and find out what you can do to make sure everyone in your area has access to water, especially during the hottest parts of the day.
2) Donate.  Click the button below.  Add a memo that it is for "Heatwave Relief."  Any remaining money will be donated to Shalom Community Center.
3) If you're local and would like to help me with some of the picking up and dropping off of water, drop me an email.
4) Share this post!

Let's keep our fellow man safe in this heat!

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