“I want to make lunches for homeless people”, I told my sister who raised an eyebrow skeptically.
“Because it seems like a good idea. I have so much and it would be easy. Plus it would give me something to do while I’m driving around all night?”It started off as a tiny little voice in my head. A whisper, really. I think thats how all dreams start. Inspiration comes from a still small voice that leads to life changing adventures.
I’ve been a police officer for over 15 years but up until last summer I had barely noticed or given much consideration to the homeless people in the community I served. I was recently assigned to graveyard shift and let me assure you, your mother was correct when she told you nothing good happens after midnight. I worked from 9 pm to 7 am and the hours between 3 am and 5 am were cold and quiet. The only ones roaming the city were cops, criminals, and the homeless.
My son and I had spent the afternoon putting together about 20 brown bag lunches. Sandwiches, bottled water, fruit, chips and cookies were the fare of every school lunch he had ever made for himself so he was more than happy to be making them for other people.
“Mom, how are you going to find homeless people in the middle of the night?”
“They are out there honey, you just have to know where to look.”
My boy helped me load the boxes of food and water into my car and I headed to work. During my commute I considered all the opportunities I might have to help someone else. I thought about how we were under current department mandate to “move along” the homeless sleeping in the parks and cite them for overnight camping if we found them in tents or makeshift shelters. These shelters were unsightly and potentially hazardous to the safety of the public.
I rolled my window down a little as I barrelled down the freeway and felt the air getting colder as the sun set on the horizon. Catch 22. It was my job as a police officer to do what my agency ordered, my role as a sergeant to make sure my team followed orders but my job as a human being to help those less fortunate or in hard situations.
I arrived at work, got suited up, sent my patrol team out for service for the night and loaded up my squad car with my gear and the lunches.
I spent the hours of my shift hunting down and finding as many people as possible who might benefit from a meal. Often times I starlted those who were taking refuge from the night by sleeping in doorways or under bushes.
“Sorry officer, I’ll move along!” They would nervously start shuffling their belongings.
“No, you can stay. I just want to give you something to eat. Would that be ok?”
Inevitably, surprise and relief lit up their faces.
“Um, sure. Thank you!”
I never stayed with one individual long. I asked their names, gave them what I had brought and went on my way. I even left lunches in sleeping individuals shopping carts, hoping that, when they woke from their drunken slumber, the food would still be there when they awoke.
Eventually I ran out of people to find and I still had about 5 lunches left. I needed to take a break so I pulled into a well lit bank parking lot to ruminate on the night so far. The calls for service had been almost non existant so I had been able to spend all my time on my little adventure so far. I pulled up alongside a planter of jasmine in the middle of the bank parking lot and caught a slight movement out of the corner of my eye.
A little man in glasses and wearing a suit popped up out of the bushes! Actually he just stood up but at 4 O’Clock in the morning ones tired mind tends to lean closer to “popped.” With a smile and a pleasant demeanor this little man waived at me, unafraid.
“Hi Officer. How are you tonight?”
I chuckled to myself a little.
“I’m ok thanks. How are you?
I was more than a little amused and befuddled by this man attire. He was balding, wearing glasses that could only be described as “coke bottle.” They made his eyes look enormous from my side of the glass. He was dressed in a business suit, wearing a tie and shaking out a sleeping bag.
“I’m just settling in for the night.”
I stayed in my car and talked to him through my open driver side window.
“Me too. Just taking a break. What’s your name?”
“I’m Frankie. What’s yours?”
“My name is Ruth.”
I didn’t see any need to formally introduce myself as he could plainly see I was in uniform and driving a patrol car. Besides, something about this little man made me feel that anything else would’ve been entirely unneccessary. Hell, it was four in the morning and right now we could just be Frankie and Ruth, enjoying a conversation.
“Would you like something to eat Frankie?” I asked as I stepped out of my car.
I walked to the back of my car and pulled a lunch and a couple of bottles of water out of my trunk.
“Will you eat with me?”
“Sure, why not.”
I took one of the lunches for myself and sat down next to Frankie on the wall of the planter. The smell of jasmine lightly wafted around us as we sat and chatted and nibbled sandwiches.
“So, Frankie, what’s your story? What are you doing out here?”
“I gathered that. Do you have a job?”
“Yes and no.”
“Why are you wearing a suit?”
“This is for job hunting. I carry a briefcase and wear a suit because that way potential employers will take me seriously.” Frankie smiled at me so optimistacally and innocently, I had to smile back.
“Do you go on many interviews?”
“I spend all day trying to find a second job.”
“What kinds of jobs are you looking for?”
“I used to be a lawyer, in another life.”
“A lawyer?” my eyebrows raised a little skeptically.
“Yeah.” Frankie sighed as he continued to munch on his sandwich pleasantly but with resignation.
“I got laid off by the company I had worked for after 15 years and the guy who laid me off was a horrible man. He didn’t want to have to pay unemployment so he actually fired me even though they were downsizing. He made up horrible lies about my integrity and I couldn’t find another job right away. My wife and I went through our meager savings pretty quickly.”
“Your married? Where is your wife?”
“My wife and my daughter are back east living with her parents.”
“How old is your daughter? Why aren’t they with you?” I was starting to feel a little bit of unexplicable panic. Could this story be true? This type of thing didn’t happen in real life, did it?
“My daughter was eight years old when she was diagnosed with cancer. We spent a lot of time and money on her treatments and she was doing better but when I suddently lost my job we had no insurance or funds to pay the doctors any longer. We lost the house not too long after. I used what little money I had left to send my wife and daughter to my wifes parents so they would be taken care of.”
I gulped, the sandwich limp in my hand. “How long ago was this, Frankie?”
“It’s been almost a year. I stayed here trying to find a job and make enough money to bring them home.”
I choked back a few tears. I wasn’t sure if this was a true story or not but something about it touched my heart. He was so matter of fact about the whole thing and seemengly undeterred.
Frankie continued, “God takes care of me.” Seeing my misty eyes he smiled. “See, look! Here you are! You are an angel bringing me food tonight, and good company to boot.”
I nodded, unable to speak, but smiling humbly.
“In the meantime, I do have a job. I have an important one,” Frankie said.
“What kind of job is that, Frankie?”
“I feed the cats.”
“The cats around the shelter. I feel bad for them. They only come out at night and someone has to take care of them, so I do.”
“So your job is to feed the feral cats?”
“Yep! They are God’s creations too right? I can always spare something,” Frankie said with a smile
“Frankie, you are an angel to them.”
“Hey, you feed me and I feed them. Kinda like the circle of generosity right? This is how God looks after all his creatures.”
I nodded in consent. I was astonished by this little mans faith and contentment that God had him in his hands.
“Well, I’m going to sleep now. Big day of job hunting tomorrow,” he winked at me.
“Ok Frankie. You go to sleep and I’ll be going back to work. I’ll be around and if you ever need anything, you call me!” I handed him my card.
“Have a safe shift,” Frankie waved.
I drove away with the image of Frankie tucking himself into his sleeping bag, his briefcase as a pillow and the scent of jasmine following me off into the night.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26