On Friday, we had our Jeans Drive at work tied in with a Sample Sale. The Sample Sale is an opportunity to clear the product development offices of sample merchandise while making a little money for the department on the side. My second year here, our department head agreed to donate 15% of the proceeds to charity. This time, we agreed on Covenant House.
If you’re not familiar with Covenant House, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t know about this organization. Until recently, I’d never heard of it. It began in New York in the 1970s and is now in several cities across the country, including Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and myriad others. The organization helps kids get off the street – kids who may have run away, been kicked out of their homes, lost both their parents, aged out of foster care, or any other reason. They help anyone under the age of 21, and their goal is to either reunite these kids with their families or help them learn to become self-sufficient. In the process, they clothe and feed these kids, and offer them a place to sleep.
The Orlando house has 48 beds but houses upwards of 60 kids a night. It’s a very lean operation, and they rely heavily on the community to help pay for services and other needs. The kids who are under 18 go to local high schools, and the kids who have children of their own are offered help in caring for their children. It’s sparse and very basic, but it’s a warm place to sleep (cool in the summer), a place to get a hot meal, and a place off the street.
I spearheaded a Jeans Drive at work when I learned that this was the charity of choice for this Sample Sale. I scoured the site, looking for ideas and suggestions on ways to help the charity, and found the Jeans Drive suggestion. As it is, these kids (mostly teens, really) are practically adults and come to the center with little more than the clothing on their backs – and that’s usually threadbare. They’re in need of everything: casual clothing, professional attire (for interviews and the like), formal dresses (for the girls still in high school who want to attend dances and such), baby and toddler clothing (for their small children), baby bottles, maternity wear (for the girls on the street who are also expecting), towels, blankets, bed sheets, etc. When I read the list of things they need, I immediately started clearing out my wardrobe of things I haven’t worn in three years and am not likely to wear again, and I boxed up the bottles my sister handed down to me when I had The Boy – bottles he never used but are perfectly useful, nonetheless. When people asked me what kind of jeans to bring, I told them to bring all sizes: infants, toddlers, kids, men’s, and ladies’. In all, we collected 148 pairs of jeans. I completely filled my car with boxes Friday afternoon: 12 boxes in all. Moreover, we also had a check for $1,000 – much more than I imagined we would collect!
When we arrived at the center, we waited in the reception area for a few minutes while the Director of Community Relations was notified of our arrival. The center was incredibly busy; we later learned it was dinnertime and, naturally, mealtimes are the busiest times of day. I saw girls pushing strollers or holding the hands of children not much older than my own little boy, and it took everything in me to not cry. Finally, we met with Maria, the Director of Community Relations and my contact these past few weeks.
I told Maria that we brought more than just adult-sized jeans, that I there were some toddler and infant sizes in there, too, as well as some maternity jeans. I also explained that I included some formal and semi-formal dresses for the girls who were still in high school (Prom season is, after all, upon us), and some business suits for the older girls looking to get out into the workplace. I let her know there were a few baby bottles in the boxes, too, and a few other miscellaneous necessities, and she almost looked like she was about to cry. “So many people forget about our girls,” she said. “A lot of people take their maternity wear and baby items to women’s shelters, and that’s great, but they forget that we need them here, too.”
Looking around the facility, I realized exactly how blessed I have been my whole life – and how good my son has it, too. I’ve never needed to rely on the generosity of strangers to get by; I never wondered when or where I might get my next meal; I’ve never doubted that I was good enough and could accomplish anything I dreamed. I’ve never been wealthy in the material sense, but I’ve also never needed anything. I’ve always had marketable skills and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to college for my undergraduate degree (courtesy of Mom & Dad) and return to school for an MBA (courtesy of my employer at the time) without needing to take out gigantic student loans. I’ve always had a roof over my head, more than enough clothes to wear, and more than enough food to eat. I have a bed to sleep on every night and more than enough blankets to keep me warm when it’s cold. I truly live in a world of plenty – so much that I often complain about how much stuff I have cluttering my world.
It’s a very humbling experience, knowing how much you have and seeing others struggling to get by with so little. And to witness it in your own backyard is even more heartwrenching.