A lot of people ask us how we got started in the business of helping homeless children get quality clothing with a positive message on it. If you were wondering the same, you’re in luck, because it’s a story that we really like to tell.
For about a year, the youth groups from four churches in Florida had been working tirelessly at fundraisers to help pay for their trip to Denver, CO to attend a gathering of a few hundred other youth groups from around the world. It was supposed to be amazing, and it was supposed to be cheaper than anticipated because the most expensive part of the trip (the transportation) had been provided in the form of a new to us charter bus that had previously been used to give tours around the Central Florida Coastline.
What we didn’t know was that the salty air from the Atlantic had all but rusted through the majority of the frame of the bus. Luckily, we found that out (because the frame gave out) while sitting in a fast food restaurant’s parking lot rather than on the interstate. Sure, we were all safe and completely unharmed, but our hopes of making it to Denver rolled away on the back of a flatbed tow truck, never to be seen again.
Being as resourceful as we could be (while trying not to disappoint 40 teenagers), we made the executive decision to spend the next week in Atlanta, GA which was only about an hour north of where we had broken down. We didn’t know what we were going to do or how we were going to pay for it, but we just believed that we couldn’t have gone that far only to turn around and go home.
After settling into our hotel, we set everyone to the task of making phone calls to anyone that might know of some service opportunities in the Atlanta area. We were looking for anything, really. As if it were meant to be, a local rescue mission called the SafeHouse was serving a hot lunch that day but didn’t have anyone to cook or serve the meal. Learning that our feet were an excellent form of transportation, we walked a few miles into the heart of downtown Atlanta and got right to work.
Our youngest traveler was our four-year-old son, Zeke. One of the best things about having a young kid on the trip is that everything is an adventure. If you ask him today, he’d still tell you that we went to Atlanta just so he could ride the MARTA. Since we knew that we’d be at the SafeHouse for a while, we made sure that Zeke brought a few toy cars to play with just in case he got bored.
The pastor of the SafeHouse gave us all a quick pep talk, telling us that our real job wasn’t cooking, it was loving. We were there to meet people and to help them feel normal, to show them their value. Then, just like clockwork, at the clock hit noon, and people streamed into the tiny dining room.
One of the last people to come in was a small family, a mother and her two sons, one of whom was almost exactly the same age as Zeke. You could tell that they hadn’t eaten or bathed in a while. Neither of the boys had a shirt or shoes. They all looked hungry, but the mother just looked sad, like she had picked a fight with the world and the world won. The boys, on the other hand seemed to be in better spirits, and before I knew it, Zeke and the older boy, Demetrius were playing with Zeke’s cars as if they had been best friends for life.
Figuring that we could at least meet boys’ need for clothing, I quickly ran out to find a tshirt cart which had been all too plentiful the day before, but for some reason, I couldn’t find anything. It ended up taking me almost a half-hour of running around Downtown Atlanta before I finally found a shop that sold the cheesy shirts that said Someone In Atlanta Loves Me. They were way too big, and way overpriced, but I knew I couldn’t go back empty-handed. I got two and ran back to the SafeHouse.
I got back just as the small family was getting up to leave. It was just in time to give the boys their new tshirts and to tell the mother that we would be praying for them and that believed things would get better for them. Although I knew our gift to them was small, I didn’t know what else we could do until Zeke walked over to his new friend and handed him both of his toy cars and said, “these are for you,” and he gave him the biggest hug a four-year-old’s arms could muster.
Later, when I asked Zeke about what made him want to give Demetrius his toy cars, he explained it as if I should have already known the answer: Because Demetrius didn’t have any toys.
So, did we change the world that day? I doubt it, but I learned a huge lesson from a tiny person. There are people in our world that just need some help every once in a while, and too often, we forget that the people most impacted by poverty are children like Demetrius. They are smart, energetic, excitable, and downright hilarious. But they are also cold andhungry.
That summer, we became acutely aware of two very real problems:
- There are kids out there that don’t have any clean clothes that fit.
- Too many kids don’t know how awesome they really are.