KidSpirit

Breaching the Gap

The Body in BalanceAwesome Moments

Recently I went with my good friend Rebecca and my stepfather to feed and supply the homeless people on the streets of Manhattan.

My stepdad’s friend, Bob, does this every week with his partner. He and his friends — people like us — pack a ton of toiletries, meals, and other things a homeless person might want, like socks, mouthwash, soap and shampoo, razors, and shaving cream. We go out to places where many homeless people are — a few parks, such as Madison Square in New York. Bob told us how to do it: approach people who looked like they needed our supplies, and ask very respectfully whether they wanted anything.

The first time Rebecca and I just watched as Bob asked this homeless guy who was sitting on a bench, not really doing anything, “Hey. Could you use this?” as he handed the man a pair of socks. “Yeah,” the guy responded, not really knowing what else to say. “Yeah, I could use that.” Then Bob said, “How about a razor? Toothbrush and Toothpaste? Mouthwash?” The man, completely bewildered but grateful at the same time, just kept saying, “Yeah, I could use that. Oh yeah, thanks so much, thanks…” We kept handing him more and more things that we take for granted, but which meant the world to him.

I was apprehensive. Bob noticed me, and said, “Oh, how about a meal?” gesturing me forward. I handed the man a meal in a plastic bag, filled with Doritos, a sandwich, some candy. I didn’t say anything. I was irrationally, yet completely… scared. I’m ashamed to admit it, but normally if I’d seen this man — a man with an unshaven beard and wild hair, who smelled and was the kind of guy I’d go lengths to avoiding sitting next to in a subway — I would have deliberately walked past, and quickly.

It went faster after that. Homeless person after homeless person, each one of them having the same initial look — not gratitude (that came a second after), not shame (that came at the end), not happiness (that came as they ripped open the bag, munching on chips), but surprise. Because they aren’t used to charity, nothing more than some coins dropped into a tin, they aren’t used to people treating them as they really are, as human beings.

After a while I plucked up my courage and asked in a small voice, “Um, would you like something to eat?”

After a while, I plucked up my courage and approached someone — a dirty woman staring glumly at the park table she was sitting at — and asked in a small voice, “Um, would you like something to eat?” She startled, jerking her head up to stare at the plastic bag being offered to her a foot and a half away from her nose. Then she looked at me. And she was crying. A mixture of emotions rushed through me: rage and happiness and sorrow and empathy. She took the bag, still looking at me, saying, “Thanks, thanks, thanks…” Rebecca offered her some mouthwash, and then some other friends of Bob poured goodies into her lap, and I was absorbing the emotions flashing across her face, and I thought, at this moment, I don’t know who’s happier – me or her. But as we left, the traces of her thanks lingering in our ears, I went up — with hesitation, of course — to the next person, and there was a great big smile on my face.

Akash Viswanath Mehta is twelve years old and enjoys writing/reading, floor hockey, and english muffins with jam – the four components to a happy life. He is the founder of an organization called Kids for a Better Future (www.kidsforabetterfuture.org), which strives to make the world a better place for kids, as well as to prove that kids can make a difference, too.

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