What a DAY!
“Token days are not the ebb and flow of life. They ease our feelings of regret about the way things have to be for the remainder of the year. They do not really change the way things are.”–Jonathan Kozol, “The Shame of the Nation”
Last Friday was Day of Caring, my 13th with United Way of King County. I was among about 300 volunteers (there were over 10,500 total throughout the county) that spent the day at Qwest Field for the Community Resource Exchange. In case you don’t know, the CRE is an event that provides direct access to a variety of public and quality of life services to people struggling with homelessness, all in one place on one day. Last year, we had approximately 1200 guests. Last Friday, we had over 2000. That’s a conservative estimate. I stood in line with many of them, and I can tell you 2000 is low. But I’ll wait for the official numbers next week.
I shouldn’t be surprised by the huge increase in need. None of us should be, really. As one of the organizers of the event, I was an obvious target for the emotions that naturally accompany something like this: anger, fear, gratitude, sadness, hope, surrender, and love were all on display. As the day came to an end, one of the final guests came up to me as I loaded materials into our UPS truck. The sadness in her voice was masked by the smile on her face.
“Bless you,” she said. “I didn’t get everything I needed today, but you made me feel human again. Just for a moment. And that’s enough for now. Maybe I can get up tomorrow and keep going, and do it again.”
I’ve always been a bit cynical about Day of Caring. Kozol’s quote above puts my perspective in words. And yet, this woman’s words stick with me, as well. They give me pause, for which I now turn and ask of you. To the more than 10,000 people who gave of themselves so graciously last Friday, I say “THANK YOU.” And, “What’s Next?” To the rest of us, I know that many of you allow yourselves those moments when you actually think things aren’t so bad. But they could be better, right? So I say “Bless YOU.” And, “What’s Next?” Here are two possibilities in our local area:
- The Bridge to Basics program connects volunteers to local organizations in an effort to help struggling families stretch their limited resources by getting signed up for public benefit programs. As someone said at the CRE, ‘I may only qualify for $15 in food stamps per month because I’m working more, but that’s almost four days worth of food for me and my daughter’.
- Our Free Tax Campaign helps thousands of low-income individuals and families get every dollar back on their federal tax return that they’re eligible for, without having to pay someone to do it for them. You can be one of almost 650 volunteers in King County this year to help make that happen! Registration opens Friday, October 1st right here! And as I love telling folks, NO tax experience necessary!
Whatever you might think about the amount of actual change that can occur on a ‘token day’, I hope you remember two things. First, make today as good as you can make it. Second, wake up tomorrow and do whatever you can to make it better than today.