I am generally not a big fan of people launching their own service projects, as there are so many existing projects and organizations that are in need of willing and able volunteers. Plus, working with others, especially those well versed in the area you wish to impact, typically leads to more progress and less redundancy.
But, as with most things in life, there are exceptions. In this case, those exceptions are in our daily actions that can have an immediate impact on someone else. Think small acts of kindness.
Until recently, I have looked at small acts of kindness as things that are relatively spontaneous. For example, helping a wheelchair-bound woman load her groceries into the car, buying a candy bar from a young man raising money for his school or simply holding a door open for a person who might need help. These are easy-to-do acts of service that we are presented with as we go about our lives and that take no planning, just simple reaction to situations.
But, there is another type of act that only takes a bit of forethought and can really make a difference. Here’s an example from my own life.
In Los Angeles, where I live, we spend a lot of time in our cars. That means we also encounter a high number of homeless people asking for money at intersections. Whenever I pull up to one of these intersections, I honestly feel a bit uneasy. In part because it’s hard to see someone struggling, but also because I don’t know what to do. I am not a big fan of handing out cash, as there is no way of knowing how that money will be used – so that’s generally out of the question (although there are days I can’t resist). Of course, I know that all people want to be acknowledged, so I try to look at them and at least nod my head or utter, “God bless you.” But, if our eyes lock, I become overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness and guilt. At least that was until recently.
A few weeks ago, I was at the Hollywood United Methodist Church on a typically gorgeous Los Angeles Sunday morning. We were about ten minutes into the service when all of the kids rushed up to the front of the sanctuary for the kids’ sermon. This is something I look forward to every week, as I get to sit back and experience the excitement and humor of the kids as they hopelessly try to sit still and listen to what is being said.
On this day, the kids’ sermon was being delivered by the children’s ministry coordinator Becky, a wonderful, kind and dedicated woman. As I watched the adorable kids gathered all around Becky, something she said caught my attention and my partner Greg’s, too. She said, and I am paraphrasing, “You know how sometimes when we are in the car and we see a homeless person, we roll down the window and give them a bottle of water…” That was all I heard, and suddenly I had a solution to my feelings of helplessness and guilt.
Later that day, Greg and I bought a case of water, and we’ve been handing it out from our cars ever since. It’s easy, meaningful, appreciated and rewarding. Plus, it only takes a tiny bit of planning.
I am reminded of my dear friend Sevy who does a small act of kindness in his own way. Every once in a while, he will buy a couple hundred Subway sandwiches, head to L.A.’s Skid Row and pass them out to the men and women who live there. I haven’t yet done this with Sevy yet, but I can only imagine how grateful everyone is. Again, just a little planning is needed.
Now, where you live it might not be water or sandwiches that are needed or practical to distribute. But, give some thought to the types of situations you come in contact with regularly and how you can help alleviate a bit of the suffering you see. Then, get your family and friends involved and please tell us all about it!
Finally, I do realize that handing out a bottle of water or doing some other small act of kindness isn’t going to drastically change the recipient’s plight, but it might lessen just a bit of their suffering. And, who can argue against that?