The purpose of my post isn’t to receive gratitude and to boast about my acts, but to raise awareness more than anything. Don’t you feel at times you can take your belongings, your surroundings and the people you have around you for granted? I certainly do and I can admit that I have done in the past too. What we want isn’t always necessarily what we need. The two differ significantly. I have been selfish with my possessions in my time, however that is now my past. I’m here to concentrate on my selfless present state of mind and what I’m doing and going to do to help others – that’s what’s really important. Ultimately, I’m working towards being the best version of myself. If I can’t do good from now, then I’m not able to achieve this ultimate goal. I’m wanting to help others less fortunate than myself because I want to give, not to gain anything in return but to experience the art of fulfilment from acts of kindness in helping others.
Why now? May you ask. Well, a few months ago before we knew Christmas was upon us, it was decided that my family and I were going to help the homeless on Christmas day. I think we can all agree that for the majority, Christmas in its entirety is usually filled with indulgence, lots of gifts and spending time with loved ones. For us, Christmas is a pretty chilled day with a big over consumption of food! We wake, have breakfast, open our presents, help prepare the Christmas dinner, shower and brace ourselves ready for the feast. We then eat, drink and eat some more to the point where you’re slumped on the coach in front of the TV watching the queens speech followed by x-massy films. Does this sound pretty familiar? I’m sure it’s like this for many of us right? I thought so.
This Christmas was going to be a little different anyway as my Dad was flying out to India to spend it out there over the festive break. My family and I also agreed to not shower eachother with presents this year but agreed to take part in secret santa instead with a limit of up to £30 spend. This meant we’d focus on buying something for that one person and all family members will get a little something to open on the big day itself. Perfect. This time round, we wanted the act of ‘giving’ to have a more fulfilling meaning with ‘giving’ a little differently this year.
Christmas is the time for giving
On the lead up to Christmas, my awareness for the less fortunate was made more apparent during an informal chat with a work colleague. A month or so prior to Christmas, she had been collecting donations of items from work colleagues to help hand out to the homeless with her chosen charity. At the end of each week, she’d gather all the items and be on her way of an evening distributing items along with her husband. That same evening, I was going to shop for my essentials to donate and she gave me advice on the essentials to buy.
I’d usually only shop for myself for the things I want and not specifically what I need. Either that or buy presents for others. For once, it felt highly satisfying buying items for those in need other than myself. Whilst my sister and brother in law ordered hats and gloves, I bought the following; blankets, thermal tops and long johns, thick socks, toothbrushes, festive chocolates and scarves. I could have bought a whole lot more but due to my inexperience, I wanted to see how we got on with handing out the essentials to know what would be needed for the next time after spending a few hours volunteering.
The same evening after buying all the essentials I needed to after work, I popped to my local Aldi to get the festive chocolates (they taste so good!) It was on my way in to the shop when I spotted a gentleman sat on the floor, head embedded into his folded arms trying to keep warm. He was propped up against the bollard outside the shop front alone and I couldn’t bare to look in his direction. I proceeded to carry on with my shopping but the guilt had overridden me to the point where I put my items of shopping down, made a u-turn and popped my head back outside to ask the chap if he’d like me to get anything for him; if he needed something to eat and drink. I looked him dead in the eye and treated him like no other. He proceeded to say ‘a chicken sandwich and a drink please, no bacon, just chicken please’. I let him know I’d be out in a moment whilst I shopped for a few things.
Even though I could feel my heart sink, I pushed the feeling to one side and kept positive and strong for his sake. I purchased the gentleman a chicken salad, bottle of orange juice, a bar of chocolate, a pack of pocket tissues and a grey beanie hat. After paying for the items and on my way back to the car, I passed them to him and wished him a Merry Christmas. I know I haven’t fixed his circumstance however I’ve assisted in helping to make his evening a little bit more bearable and I hope others that pass the entrance would have spotted him and asked if he needed anything too.
Christmas day arrived. Me, my sister and my brother in law were all dressed for the great outdoors, geared and ready to make our way in to the city. Nonetheless, I was a little apprehensive and anxious about how the experience would go. A few years ago, I volunteered my services into teaching English to the children during my travels in Thailand. I’ve not volunteered my services to help those less fortunate than myself such as the homeless. Without dwelling too much, I let the thoughts temporarily sit in my mind before I picked myself up and gained some inner strength. I was present and that’s the main point. As we were on our way to our meeting point, hands filled with carrier bags full of our pre-bought essentials, we did spot the odd homeless person on our way and knew we’d come back to attend to them on our walkabouts. I had no expectations and went with an open mind and with the thought;
‘Treat others as you would treat any other human being’
I’ve never witnessed Birmingham city centre look so deserted; I’ve just been so used to weaving through the traffic of eager shoppers on a Saturday morning. As we reached our meeting spot, there was a mixed bag of volunteers from different backgrounds, around 15 of us in total. We were equipped with sandwiches, snack bags, essentials and packed full of energy and positivity. One of the volunteers even had a pull along open trolley where we stored the drinks and snacks. Perfect! The organisers Sara and Gary were known to the homeless we came across. One guy that I vividly remember on the first instance was a chap known as ‘CJ’. He was so full of life, open to a conversation, thanked us all with a handshake and wasn’t afraid to share the deep, dark secrets of black mamba ‘spice’ within the homeless world. It’s brutal. Other homeless people started to approach us once they noticed what we were there for and they were all welcomed with smiles, hot tea/coffee, turkey sandwiches, crisps, chocolates, items to keep them warm and light conversations from us volunteers.
After the gathering, we set tracks off on a walkabout around the streets of Birmingham for two hours on the look out for the homeless. We must have came across 30 homeless people in that time. Some were found on foot whilst others made home under some form of shelter either by themselves, some in pairs and others in small groups. A selected few just wanted to be left alone.
Due to the fact that we were in a group, we were mindful with our approach as some suffer with social phobia. You can totally understand why as it can be very overwhelming for them – complete strangers, all eyes on you, asking if you’re okay, if you need anything and lots of eager hands wanting to give you something. All in all, each individual we came across were thankful for our help and replied with their blessings.
I won’t disclose the stories we were told however, during the walk and whilst interacting with the leaders, we were educated on current homeless circumstances; the rivalries that occur, the drug and alcohol addictions, the thefts and the feuds that is very much prevalent in our society today. It’s disheartening to come to terms with the fact that such badness occurs, when in an ideal world, you’d hope the less fortunate would stick together, unite and help one another. Even more so, you’d wish for there not to be any homelessness at all.
Reflecting on the day, it was certainly an eye opener to witness. Weather wise Christmas was a pretty mild, dry day but to think the homeless have had to widthstand temperatures and conditions much worse than this, was even more heartbreaking. Everyone we crossed paths with were thankful for any items and foods donated. They didn’t want to take everything in sight, they accepted exactly what they needed and said no to the items they didn’t want. These people don’t want to be pitied or for you to feel sorry for them, they just want your time and some form of acknowledgement with eye contact and a simple smile. They’re a human being at the end of the day, just like yourself. You don’t know what their circumstance may be. Understand that they are less fortunate than yourself and not instantly judge their current situation. Engage with them and have a conversation with them if you feel it’s suitable to do so.
The homeless need help all year round, not just for Christmas. If you’re thinking about helping the less fortunate, I’d suggest you to offer them your time, food and hot drinks and donate items to keep them warm at night instead of giving money. Not all homeless people are drug/alcohol addicts but at least you’ll know the money given isn’t being used to assist any form of substance abuse. If you’re considering volunteering, I would research in to which charities help the homeless in your area. You may have to register with the charity in the first instance so be prepared as this may take some time in processing before you actually get round to volunteering. This year we volunteered with Let’s Feed Brum whom volunteer six days a week. If a lot of people do something little to help the homeless, I personally feel this will have a bigger impact that a few people doing a lot. I will continue to help as best as I can on days to come.
If you’re wanting some guidance on what to bring with you whilst volunteering or if you’d like to make a care bag to donate on passing, I’d recommend to include any of the following essential items;
- Sleeping bag
- Hand wipes
- Protein snacks
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Vitamin C tablets
As mentioned earlier, I wanted to reiterate that haven’t written this post for a ‘thanks’ or a ‘well done’ but just to raise awareness on the struggle we are currently facing. Birmingham stands at being one of the top ten areas with the highest rates of homelessness in England. We’re not here to judge others that are less fortunate than us. You don’t know what their circumstance may be. The homeless are forever stigmatised for the position they are in and there may be a myriad of reasons for why a person may be homeless. They’re not only having to face with drug/alcohol addictions but could also be dealing with mental health issues, family abandonment, redundancy from a role etc. Regardless of what they’re going through, they are evidently less fortunate that yourself. Next time you see a homeless human being, give them a second thought.