Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love gathering with family and friends and enjoying time together...talking, laughing and the feeling of comfort of being with those I love.
I remember as a teenager going to help serve food at a soup kitchen in downtown Minneapolis one Thanksgiving. I remember the many faces of those who were there to enjoy a warm meal and thinking "these people are homeless" and that made them strange and different than me. I remember my sisters and mother and I leaving after our two hour shift and talking about how good it made us feel to help those "poor" people as we went home to our cozy house and extravegent meal with our extended family. I don't remember talking in length about the people we served and if we were thinking about what made them feel good. I remember the impact of that day lasted until the next day when I was then consumed with plans for the upcoming Christmas holiday and thoughts of "those people" were far from my mind.
As I recall this memory, I think of the many residents currently living at the shelter and wonder who thinks of them? While we have many volunteers who bring in meals and gifts is this a fleeting memory just as mine was so many years ago? While giving to those in need is so very important are we doing it just to feel good for ourselves or are we doing it to ensure those we serve feel loved and important?
Having served as the director at the shelter for over six years now, my mindset has shifted and my understanding of the "homeless" is more clear. I have learned it is not "those poor people" but that the individuals we see come through our doors are no different than you or me. They have children and parents, they have hopes and dreams, they are looking to be a part of our community. I have learned that volunteering my time to do something for someone in need does feel good for me but that I need to be thinking about what makes those we serve feel good as well. Taking the time to ask questions and truly engage, taking the time to make connections and understand that so many people just want to know that someone cares...the same things I want to feel. I have also learned that the needs of our residents continue well beyond this time of year. Their need for acceptance and love go beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas and these needs should not be forgotten once the season of giving is over.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for my family and friends, my health and my home. I am thankful for my job, for the amazing resource the shelter offers and for the amazing support of our community. I am also thankful for the opportunity to share my stories with others about the work we do and hope that it makes an impact. I hope to create new understandings so we can all work together for a better community and a better life for everyone!
Author, Lori Zahrbock, Executive Director
The Benji House Blog is made up of various experiences and insights from the staff and volunteers at the shelter. It is our hope that personal tales of what we all see and feel will help our community and world be a understand and allow compassion for those who need us the most.