Challenging you to a “Holiday Miracle”

At 8:30am on a Sunday morning, I took the train down to Chicago to hand out food and clothes to the homeless with some friends.

I had been asked to donate whatever I had, so I set off with two plastic bags of socks, gloves, hats, scarves and sweaters, my notebook and camera.

My friend picked me up from the station, and together with his friends, we packed over twenty bags of winter clothes and food.

Standing by his car on that cold, wintry day, we divided bread, snacks, fruit, Jell-o and water bottles into the bags and talked excitedly about where we were going to go.

Our first stop was my idea, a homeless village made up of old tents that shares a water view with one of the most expensive buildings in Chicago, River City Condominiums.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been to Chicago’s shanty town, and I am still determined to go back!

Next, we drove underneath the multi-layered Wacker Drive to the infamous homeless community that lives in the maze of underground streets.

Our car’s headlights shone on blankets and sleeping bags spread between the stone pillars.

Several people were trying to sleep, or sitting quietly in the darkness.

As we passed, they shielded their eyes from the light’s glare, and stared at us.

I felt like I’d dropped onto the set of a post-apocalyptic French film.

Except this was real.

While we were trying to find parking, a church group of college kids poured of a van and began to hand out brown paper bags.

We learned that they were part of a weekly ministry to help the homeless, and were obviously more prepared than we were.

We decided to leave Wacker Drive to them, and concentrate elsewhere.

After driving up and down the streets for a while, we still couldn’t see anyone.

“Seriously, where have all the homeless gone?” My friend asked, bewildered.

It was already mid-afternoon and we were tired and hungry from planning and packing all day.

Finally we went to the one place we knew we would be able to help: Chicago’s Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, the most expensive shopping area in the city.

It was getting cold, so we dropped off a few packs by car.

But I wanted to walk.

It was hard to see among the crowds and it had been a long day already.

So three of us grabbed a handful of bags and donated clothes and walked up and down Michigan Avenue to hand them out.

The Magnificent Mile was crowded with Christmas shoppers, and every store had its own decorations, red, gold ribbons, green garlands and white lights hung in all the trees.

The streets were so busy, it was hard to find the people we were looking for, huddled in coats and blankets and holding cardboard signs.

But even then, we could see evidence of Christmas spirit everywhere.

A line of people stood out in the cold, offering free hugs to passers-by; a Veteran services van stopped at each street corner to hand out food and clothes.

A kind promoter handing out hot packs even gave us extra for our bags.

It was a good day.

I want to challenge you, my friends, wherever you are, whatever you believe, to make your own “Holiday Miracle” happen.

Even though I didn’t have much to give, I felt blessed, because I had been invited to share this experience.

The people I worked with were my age, all trying to find a way to live doing what they loved, with more time than money to give.

But somehow, that day, it was more than enough.

God bless!