A Work In Progress

A charitable brownie run turns into a lesson

by , posted on January 21st, 2010 in The Giving Issue

I felt stupid.

The assignment was simple: drop off snacks for the builders at the Habitat for Humanity project, around mid-morning. We had just enough time to run our errand before heading for swim lessons at the pool.

But I felt so stupid.

Here I was, in this silly shiny new minivan, with three shiny happy well-fed kids driving through the roughest neighborhoods of Baltimore, carrying a tray of brownies and a few gallons of juice, to presumably pull up curbside and hand the snacks through the window.

I carried on a running dialog with myself as I managed to miss the exit not once, but twice. “This is ridiculous. I mean, how does this show the kids “service”? They probably think this is just some long pointless errand they’re being dragged on. This isn’t giving them any kind of example! We didn’t even bake the brownies!”

Finally, after touring most of West Baltimore, we found the street we needed. We
passed a health clinic, with long lines of patients snaking out its doors. We drove past a food bank, with another long line winding down a city block. The residents of Pigtown gazed at our car with a vague interest, but dull eyes. They had other things on their minds.

As I berated myself for the six hundred and forty third time over this crazy plan of mine, I heard a soft voice in the backseat. My eldest, gazing out the window whispered to herself “are all of these people homeless??”

Then, almost as if the idea had to be spoken aloud to be possible, she raised her voice to ask me the same thing. I guessed no, probably not all, but certainly some of them. She was floored. My ever-helpful innner voice sniped “and just how did you think she’d learn about homeless people?”

So then we had to find parking on the street, and I struggled with the many buttons
required to undo all the safety features to actually open doors and extract occupants. We crossed the street, with me balancing18-month old on one hip, and a huge platter of brownies on the other. The othertwo got stuck toting the gallons of juice.

A great shout went out within the shell of the house, and within seconds workers began pouring out for a mid-morning break.

There was a few seconds of silence as everyone tore into the treats. All the workers had hard hats, but that seemed to be about all they had in common. There were retired couples, young professionals, guys who looked like they’d grown up there. The site supervisor offered to take the kids and I on a tour of the build site. He made sure to show my son, Lars, the electrical wires snaking through the walls, and all three kids were in awe of the power saw.

We made our way out of the house, and back down to the street to our car. Everyone piled into carseats, and we pulled away, with me feeling vaguely unsatisfied—always, always the feeling of ‘not enough done’—but everyone fascinated by a gutted home.

It wasn’t until many months later—last week in fact—that it became clear what the trip had meant to them.

Our church sponsored a Mission Fair—all of the organizations that our church supports had displays to show church members where their time, effort and money had been spent this year. My husband took the older kids around to see it all. They made their way to the Habitat for Humanity table, and my son marched right up: “I was ‘dere! I went to that house!” As my husband gave the Habitat rep a little background, she turned to introduce the woman who would be getting the keys to the rowhouse that week. Proudly, my eldest began explaining in great detail how they’d seen the ‘electricity in your house!’

Finally it sank in. I hadn’t done much. I hadn’t been proud of the service I did. But it was enough, enough for that day. Because in that one small errand, I took a huge step with my kids: a step towards service. They began to see that there are all types of people offering their time and talents, and perhaps money, in all different ways. By participating in a real project, they were able to see that charity is action. A life of service is one in which we share what we have, in our best effort to work towards a connectedness with each other as human beings.

The trip I made with my kids that day, instead of being ‘stupid’ or ‘pointless’, illustrated for them that charity can be performed every day, in every way, and hopefully they will begin to see that it is they who will be made richer by this.

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