Thursday DECEMBER 11th
Five years ago, when I first heard about CHS’s holiday gift card needs, I “adopted” a family. They asked for an Eat n Park gift card so the single-father-of-two could treat his kids to a holiday meal. He also asked for cards so he could purchase a few presents for his kids. He asked for nothing for himself but we added an extra gift card so that he might get something for himself as well.
Last year we adopted adults who were alone. A man living at the Y asked for a winter coat, new tennis shoes and some snacks for his room. When asked to be specific about what food he wanted, he asked for a bag of chips and some cookies.
A young man, just 25 with no family and living in a group home, asked for gift cards to Walmart, Giant Eagle and Target because he rarely has money to buy anything new for himself. He also enjoys going out to eat so requested gift cards to Subway, McDonald’s or Arby’s.
These are simple, simple asks. People who see a subway gift card or a bag of chips as a rare treat face every day struggles that are unimaginable to me.
It’s the lonely adults that devastate me. Kids still have a chance. They receive (rightfully) a lot of empathy and support. But when we see the disheveled and dirty homeless woman sitting in Starbucks to stay warm, what do we do? We look away. We ignore. We feel helpless and heartbroken, but most days most of us don’t DO anything. I believe everyone deserves to be warm and fed, and I wish for everyone the inner warmth and satisfaction that comes from companionship. No one starts off life thinking “when I grow up I’m going to sleep over a subway grate.” Or “when I grow up people will avoid looking me in the eye because my very existence will make them uncomfortable.”
But that’s the reality for many homeless adults and those with mental illness –and especially and particularly homeless adults with mental illness. It’s a hard life. And without family, a solitary and desperate existence is all that there is for many mentally ill adults.
I know that helping CHS provide holiday gift cards does as much to ameliorate MY sadness as it does theirs. I know that what we really need, and should work for, is systemic change in how we care for vulnerable people. However I also know that the opportunity to buy new underwear, to pick out ones own winter coat, to eat at a fast food restaurant, to order a meal just the way you like it, these simple pleasures can make a whole year better.
Which is why I’m asking you to give to the CHS Holiday Gift Project this year. Please help one of the 550 people living in CHS’s supportive housing services this holiday. There are several ways you can help: