People often ask me if the holiday season is depressing at St. Francis House, and my answer is always a resounding “No, it’s my favorite time of year.” I have my aunt to thank for that.
Aunt Dot dedicated her life to the Salvation Army. She ran a meals program when I was a child, and every Thanksgiving my parents would drive out to Long Island, NY, so we could help her serve a turkey dinner to hundreds of homeless and elderly adults. We’d spend hours preparing the meal, and when people arrived, my aunt made them feel like honored guests. She gave warm hugs, knew everyone by name, and she looked at each person through the eyes of love, seeing past their struggles to their inherent worth. Those Thanksgivings made me feel special, because I had the opportunity to help so many people Aunt Dot cared about. I also learned that if you meet a person’s need with unconditional love, you can soften the toughest exterior and heal the deepest wounds. I see that every day at St. Francis House, where guests who have experienced tremendous trauma begin to feel hope because someone – often a volunteer – smiles or offers encouragement along with clean clothes or a hot meal.
Those simple gestures mean a great deal because they convey the same message my aunt did: You are valuable; you matter; I’m so happy to see you. Volunteers send that message over and over again. They also demonstrate that we are all our brother’s keeper and that caring for one another is a privilege, not a burden. This is easy to see as the holidays draw closer and volunteers help us wrap hundreds of warm sweatshirts for our guests, sing carols in our Atrium, or chop vegetables for our Christmas dinner.
But the real gift – at any time of year – is the willingness to see people through the eyes of love. Each time we look beyond the surface, we restore a bit of the hope and dignity that homelessness and circumstances have stripped away. I’m so grateful for the more than 250 volunteers who give of their time and talent. I’m also thankful for you, our loyal supporters and donors, who make our work possible. Thank you for believing in our mission and our guests.