Technically, we’re not poor – we’re broke. My husband and I bring in several times the federal poverty rate. Most days, we have everything we need to live. But because my husband was forced to take a massive pay cut this year while we spend nearly a third of our income paying off student loans, we struggle to come up with everything we need to function in the middle-class, white-collar world we live (and work) in.
I know the difference because, for most of my life, I was poor. If your office or classroom ever “adopted” a family in Lawrence, Kansas, in the late 90s and early 2000s, there’s a chance the family you adopted that year was mine. With the help of compassionate strangers, I never once experienced a Christmas without presents. I suspect that’s why I always get the urge to give to strangers around the holidays.
This year, I had resigned myself to not donating anything because I thought we truly didn’t have anything to spare. And I was feeling pretty crummy about it.
But then there were these shoes.
I was trying to sell a pair of shoes my husband bought but never wore (they didn’t fit) on Facebook for $30. I was hoping the money could go toward buying both of us new shoes before the ones we had fell apart.
The only bite I got was from a 20-year-old father who worked at Walmart and didn’t own a car. He said he was trying to find shoes for a homeless veteran who hangs around his neighborhood; the veteran never has shoes that fit because he’s a size 13 and, presumably, most of the shoes he finds at thrift stores and outreach programs are in the 9-11 range.
The young man, Javon, offered to trade me for the shoes – a Louis Vuitton wallet, some Sony headphones, a couple of pairs of shoes in a different size – nothing I was interested in. But something about this kid, who clearly didn’t have much to spare and was still trying to look out for someone worse off, stuck with me.
So I interrogated poor Javon, trying to determine whether he was lying his ass off in an effort to rob and murder me. When I asked if his homeless friend could use a blanket and some hotel soaps along with the shoes, he said “Yeah, he could really use that. Thank you so much. God’s going to bless you in a big way.”
And dammit if I wasn’t convinced that this guy was for real.
If he’s lying, I told my husband, he’s so hard up himself that he’s fabricating an elaborate story for some Adidas Sambas. Either way, these shoes – which we agreed weren’t cool enough to sell for weed money – could really help someone at no cost to us.
Perhaps against our best judgment, we drove across town and met a stranger to deliver the shoes, a blanket I’d forgotten was in my closet, leftover soaps from my last business travel, and a few pairs of socks we threw in (every resource I read said socks are highly prized and rarely donated). Javon walked nearly a mile in the cold to meet us at the police station, told us more about his homeless friend, and sounded genuinely excited to put shoes on this man’s feet.
It was the best feeling I’ve had in months.
In that moment, all my anxiety about keeping the lights on and replacing my own worn-out shoes melted away. Giving is a little about making myself feel like a decent person and a lot about making the world look closer to the way it should look. Children should have all the school supplies they need. Dogs and cats should have homes. People should have enough food to eat. Veterans should have homes and shoes and blankets.
Giving is a way to right the wrongs in the world, and it felt like a blessing to stumble across an opportunity to heal even one small part of a massive injustice. I’ve never felt more relief.
I know I could have just as easily donated those shoes to Goodwill, but it wouldn’t have felt as good as driving them out to Javon for his friend. That connection to a real human who really needs something is what it’s all about for me, selfish as that might be.
I’m not saying you should give your stuff to strangers who message you on Facebook.
This holiday season, don’t forget to give to someone in need. Maybe your own friends or family are in need; maybe you like to donate your time. There’s real joy in sacrificing for others because it all counts, I think, toward making the world look more like it should.