Being Prepared (Gift Cards 38-41, 42)

Trip Start Jan 06, 2011
Trip End May 24, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Friday, February 18, 2011

There's a classic story you may have heard that goes like this:

            Two men were walking toward each other on an otherwise deserted beach. One man was in his early 20s, the other obviously much older. The smooth damp sand was littered with starfish, washed onto the land during high tide. They were stranded there when the tide ebbed. Thousands of starfish were doomed to die in the warm morning sun.
The younger man watched the older man pick up starfish one at a time and toss them back into the ocean, giving them a chance to survive. The young man thought, “Why is he doing that? How foolish. He can’t save them all.”
As they came near one another, the younger one felt compelled to point out to the older man the futility in his action. “You know,” he said, “you can’t save them all. Most of them will die here on the sand. What you are doing really won’t make any difference.” The older man studied the young man for a moment. Then he bent down, picked up a starfish and tossed it into the water. He smiled at the young man and said, “It made a difference to that one.” Then he walked on, picking up starfish and tossing them back into the sea.

This morning on our drive to the workday, we planned extra time for travel in order to grab lunch.  En route from our hotel in nearby Fort Collins, we passed six cardboard signs declaring one form of need or another - an unusally high number of starfish for one morning.  The first few we saw were on a service road to the main highway we were on, and so we could not stop.  The next was a man in his 50's.  His sign read, "homeless with a family of 4.  Please Help."  As we were stopped at a red light with him outsisde the driver's side window, Mike rolled down the pane, and I searched out some gift cards and water bottles.  If what he was saying was true, then that family of four could use some food - 1 subway giftcard, 1 McD's gift card, and 2 Wal-mart cards later, we were facing a green light and took our left turn to enter interstate traffic.

As we pulled off I-25 to get our lunch, a man sat at the light at the top of the exit with this sign, "Homeless Vet.  Need Food and Work."  Now, these situations upset me - homeless vets.  The men who have served our country - put their lives in danger for our saety, make up one of the largest populations among the country's homeless.  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 1/3 of the adult homeless population are veterans, with an approximate 1.5 other veterans at high risk for becoming homeless.  Read more at

The gentleman we met today was quite a talkative fellow.  As Mike passed him a giftcard for lunch at Subway (which we saw right accross the road) I asked what branch of the military he served in.  "Air Force!" he proclaimed proudly.  Then Robert continued to tell us details about the plane he worked in, how following orders got him kicked out, and how he spends his summers herding cattle in Wyoming, but winter is a hard time to find any work.  Again, our light was turning green, and we had to leave.

Before reaching our destination, we passed yet another man, at the top of the exit opposite Robert, so we couldn't make it over to him.  But my point here is this:  There is need, there will always be need, but that does not excuse us from doing what we can, when we are able.  Even one Subway card will not fix a man's problems.  But it is what we have to offer right now, and it will provide one or two lunches - more than if we'd done nothing at all. 

Being willing is one thing, (a very good thing) but being able and prepared is something very different.  And without preparation, all the willingness in the world won't do any good.  Have you ever been walking down a city street and seen a man on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign and a cup?  You reached into your pocket, and though the spirit was moving to help the man, you realize that since the inventon of credit cards you don't carry cash anymore, and thus you had nothing to offer him.  In reality, you have much to offer, but in that moment, you were unprepared.  Though you were willing to help, you found yourself unable when the need arose.  Sound familiar?  By having a pack of water bottles handy, and the gift cards provided for us, we are in a position and a mindset to give!  And since we have these supplies already designated to be given away, the number of cardboard signs is not overwhelming.  Those are the people for whom these gifts are intended, and so it is fine when they are there to ask! 

You cannot house every homeless family, man and woman.  You can't even feed them all.  But you can prepare your heart to be willing to give.  And then prepare your wallet to be able.  We didn't even help everyone we saw today.  But we did help Robert.  And I know it made a difference to that one.
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