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Giving Lunch To A Homeless Person And Asking Them Their Story – IDC #5

December 20, 2011

This was the fist IDC Project where we took a vote to see which of three suggested activities we would do. This is the activity that won. I’d like to thank Jason Vandehey for suggesting it.

Let me introduce you to Frank. Frank is a 47 year old Italian American from New Jersey who’s had a rough past and is at a place in life he never thought he’d be. I found him holding a sign asking for help in downtown Philadelphia near where I work.

This is his story:

Frank is from New Jersey where he grew up in a Catholic family with two sisters. He had a difficult childhood with a controlling, abusive father, abusive to the extent that his mother couldn’t even tell him, “I love you” in front of his father. If she did, his father would get very angry. Frank thought maybe it had something to do with his father being jealous.

He got involved with drugs as a young man, including some hard stuff and was in and out of jail a few times. He said he wasn’t hanging around the right people.

However, when he was 35, he became the father to a baby boy and decided he didn’t want to live a life of drugs, gangs, and violence anymore. So, he cleaned up his act.

I asked him what happened and how he ended up living on the street. He said he and his wife had fallen on rough times and split up last Thanksgiving, this is when he moved back to Philadelphia. After not being able to get a job and being estranged from his family, he found himself on the street.

I asked him if he ever stays in any of the shelters. He said he’s been in some of the different shelters, but explained to me, “Philly is a black town, at least among the poor. I’m the only white guy in there and there’s a lot of racism, even in the management. Not to mention,” he said, “most of the guys in there are messed up and into a lot of bad crap, drugs and crime.” He said he didn’t want to be around that anymore.

Even though his family is only 30 minutes away, he won’t be seeing them for Christmas. His mom would love to see him, but his father wouldn’t have it. “I’m dead to him,” he said.

For his plan going forward, he’s trying to get into a homeless program where they will help him get back on his feet. He’s also involved in a good church where they serve a meal after the service.

He is optimistic about his future and said that this is only temporary. Throughout our conversation, which was close to an hour, he kept apologizing for being all over the place and talking my ear off. He explained that it had been a while since he talked to anyone.

So, I left him that evening with a grilled chicken sandwich and fries, hot coffee, and some cash and wished him a Merry Christmas and said I’d remember him in my prayers. I told him that I didn’t doubt that he would be able to turn things around and that I really enjoyed talking with him.

In closing, I’ll say that this experience was not at all what I expected. I really enjoyed meeting Frank and left feeling good knowing that I had been a blessing to someone. It also gave me a new perspective on life and those around me and I realized that if I take the time to listen and ask questions to someone whom I might normally pass by, I’ll probably learn something.

Thanks again for the suggestions and voting for the IDC Project. This is something I wouldn’t have done on my own but am now a better person for it.

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24 Comments

  • Reply Jody December 21, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I LOVE this challenge! I’m sure that it impacted both of your lives. You and Claudia have certainly impacted my life over the past few weeks at a time where I really needed encouragement and support in keeping my eyes focused outward instead on getting stuck in my own circumstances. Great job, guys!

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 9:25 am

      Jody,
      Yeah, I know for sure that I was impacted through the experience. I really enjoyed how this IDC Project was more outward focused than some of the other ones.
      I’m glad that we’ve been an encouragement to you, both Claudia and I have enjoyed getting to know you as well.

  • Reply Anonymous December 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Wow, what an awesome experience! The apprehension of approaching people can be huge.
    You had a great experience it sounds like, and that will hopefully encourage you. Do something challenging and get rewarded!

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Yeah absolutely, Jason. I think there’s definitely a life lesson in there. Who wants a stagnant boring life anyway?

  • Reply Anonymous December 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

    This right here makes me sad: “He explained that it had been a while since he talked to anyone.”
    I think that is partly because of the ‘stigma’ associated with “homelessness” in this country, even when it’s usually someone who just needs help getting going again. We’re so busy in life that we just pass on by. 🙁

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

      I thought the exact same thing, Jason. I think most people are usually so focused inward that they’re oblivious to what’s going on around them. At least I know I can be.

  • Reply Sutton Parks December 21, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Very interesting. I always wonder where these guys sleep. One homeless man told me the best place to sleep is in a cemetery. So many people start off in a troubled home and then turn to drugs. Frank is one step ahead being off of them. Sometimes the people in the 12 step groups can help with jobs or temporary shelter.

    I love the Mother Teresa quote”Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”. Thanks for sharing this Michael.

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Sutton,
      Frank said that he was staying with the Occupy Philly group for a while until that group had to move. He has a tent and a sleeping bag that he stays in.
      And like you mentioned, a lot of times these people had troubled childhoods. More and more I’m realizing how impressionable kids are. Claudia and I have a 4 month old and we think of this all the time now.

  • Reply Anonymous December 21, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Michael, how did you “approach” Frank? What did you say to him to explain why you were approaching him? I’m very intrigued by this and would love to hear a little more behind the curtains of how this went down.

    I love that everyone has a story. I often get sucked into everything that is going on with ME – MY family, MY workplace, MY social life and often overlook those around me. This reminded me that it is important to acknowledge others.

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm

      Alana,
      I actually approached someone else first, a second homeless gentleman a few doors down from Frank. I simply asked him if he had lunch and if he’d like me to get something for him. I asked I’m what he wanted but he wasn’t sure so I suggested a soup and a sandwich, he said that sounded good. There was a Ruby Tuesday right across the street so I went there. While I was talking with the first guy, I saw Frank down the street so I thought I’d get something for him too.

      It ended up taking over 20 minutes for the food and when I got back out there, the first guy was gone. So, I went up to Frank and asked him if he wanted a chicken sandwich. He said he’d love one.

      I didn’t tell him about the IDC Project or the reason I was talking to him. I just simply started asking him questions like, “Are you staying warm enough?” and “How long have you been out here today?” and so on. I learned a little while a ago, if you ask good questions and listen, people will talk.

      I ended up leaving him with both meals. He said he would probably eat the both of them that night because he was really hungry. Plus, he’s been loosing a little weight so the double portion would be good.

      • Reply Anonymous December 21, 2011 at 7:57 pm

        Michael,

        Thank you for the back story! 🙂 I wanted to hear how you initiated conversation because this is something I could see Josh or I choosing to do. 🙂

        • Reply Michael Good December 22, 2011 at 7:45 am

          If you do it, Alana, I’d love to hear about it!

  • Reply Ryan Ash December 21, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    I really love this one, Michael! You’ve made me think about how I could make a difference in someone’s life who is less fortunate than we are. Keep up the great work!

    • Reply Michael Good December 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks, Ryan. And you know, it doesn’t take much, all you have to do is show someone you care.

  • Reply Nancy December 22, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Thanks for sharing this project. Awesome. So many times we think about doing something “good”. But thinking about it, and actually taking the time to do it, are totally different. It is so easy to get caught up in our own busy private little world and be completely oblivious, our not even care about the people around us. We miss giving, and receiving the Blessings!

    • Reply Michael Good December 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Hey Nancy!
      It’s so true that thinking about doing something, and then actually doing it, are totally different. And honestly, this is not something I would have done if it weren’t for this project. That’s what Claudia and I are aiming to do with this site, start living the way we actually want to live. Thanks for the input!

  • Reply Matt Horwitz June 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Wow Michael, this is a moving story… got me teary eyed. I’m sure he will always remember you and the space you provided for him to share his life. I added this to my comfort challenge list. I think it’s a great idea, and a very nice thing to do as well!

    • Reply Michael Good June 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Awesome, Matt! I want to hear how it goes.

  • Reply Join Us for the Next IDC - rise365 September 18, 2012 at 1:02 am

    […] along and do the challenge with us! No, we’re not going to go to the store in our pajamas or give lunch to a homeless person, though you could do those things as well. We’re simply going to answer the common question, […]

  • Reply Amazing Day #5 | The Other Side October 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    […] In the end I decided if I saw her on the way back home I would give her $5.  When I saw her, I had another idea.  I would invite her to lunch and get to know her.  There was a little dinner just a block away.  I remember the story of my friend Michael (from Rise365.com) who one took a homeless man lunch and asked him his story.  It was a great experience.  Read about it here. […]

  • Reply Hhdfhnyg December 16, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Wow, awesome story… Got me a little choked up even. How inspiring!

    • Reply Michael Good December 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  • Reply guest April 15, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Great post! Recently a homeless women asked for my lunch and or two sandwichs when I walked back to my office from break. As Nancy pointed out in her comment below: (we often think about doing something “good”. But thinking about it, and actually taking the time to do it, are totally different. ” ) That day i had forgotten my wallet, and had no means to replace my lunch, thinking of me and my world only, yes very lame of me! I aplogized to her saying: I am sorry but i dont have two sandwichs and walked away… no sooner as i found myself walking away from the women, an overwhelming feeling of guilt and sadness came over me. She did not ask for money, she asked for food! I quickly went back to my office gathered my lunch, some other snacks, packed them away and ran back to give her the food…but by the time i returned she was gone. : ( So point of my story is my heart knew what to do instantly, but my mind was so caught up my world that i missed a chance to help someone in need. I pray she is ok and was able to eat that day.

    • Reply Michael Good April 16, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for the comment. You’re listening to your heart. Often we’re too busy to even do that. Now you know how you’ll what to handle it differently next time. 🙂 I think we all have lots of opportunities for giving in this sort of way, especially when we start looking.

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