I set out on this trip to take a break from my everyday life. I was hopeful that I’d be able to help someone along the way and probably more hopeful that a large group of middle school students wouldn’t make me sorry for signing up. Along with all of that hope, I brought my own prejudices too.
What kind of person becomes homeless? What kind of food is good enough for a homeless person? Why would someone choose to live like that? I had answers before I ever experienced the situation first hand.
My first assignment was at a soup kitchen on the edge of downtown Kansas City. Within one day, all of my prejudices were challenged. The staff did not cook meals for the homeless. They cooked meals for their guests. The quality of the meals reflected that attitude. Every meal was homemade, fresh, and well-balanced even though they had to creatively create menus from whatever food donations they received.
Part of the assignment was to eat lunch with the guests. There I met Daryl, a former mortgage banker from Minneapolis. His brother had been killed in the 9/11 attacks and he never recovered from the loss. He moved to Kansas City for an undisclosed reason and when the economy fell apart, so did he. He told me about living on the street and the dangers that go along with it. He hoped he could return to working someday but didn’t know how to make that happen. His life was not absent of hope even though it seemed to be absent of a plan to move forward.
I heard other stories too. No story was the same as the next and none of the people chose to be in this situation. I learned that homelessness did not discriminate based on age, color, or gender and that I should be thankful for all of the things I take for granted every day.
In the end, I returned with a new perspective on the homeless and some new ideas on how I might make a difference for other people. I left many of my prejudices behind and returned with a new kind of hope for all people instead of hope for just myself. -- Alison C.