Putting the 'giving' back in Thanksgiving
Eating turkey isn't the only way to do something great on Thanksgiving.
Monday, November 21, 2011 - 08:47
Photo: Glenn Fay, Jr.
Sunday I was on the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vt., enjoying a leisurely afternoon, picking up some new winter clothes and getting a bite to eat. After checking out Frog Hollow's local photography and picking up a bow tie at Macy's, I cruised towards Eddie Bauer, right past him. I wouldn't have noticed him except the street was empty and he was alone in the middle of the plaza. He was sitting in a wheelchair, holding a cardboard sign that read, "Anything Helps Thank You God Bless". I noticed he looked cold and was missing a leg as he looked straight ahead down the street from his wheelchair. I said hi and he nodded, but made no direct appeal to me as some street people do.
After walking by, something in his eyes made me stop, turn and go back and touch base with him. I rarely give panhandlers money, not that you see many in Burlington like you do in other places. I pulled out a buck and handed it to him. "Thank you very much," he said to me. "What's your name?" I asked. "Steve," he said. "And where do you live, Steve?" "On the street, anywhere I can, it was College Street last night." I paused. This guy was the real deal. I had to know more about how he ended up like this. "And what did you do before you lived on the street?" I asked. "I was a sheetrocker for Chuck — Chuck's Drywall. I got diabetes, lost my leg, and couldn't work." I nodded in understanding.
But it was so foreign to me. I have a friend who lost his leg to diabetes. An athlete. Hard working guy. So I could see how that could happen. Apparently Steve, who doesn't look any older than me, had a series of devastating experiences and voila, here he is living on the street, day to day. There is probably more to Steve's story. Hopefully he is supported by the network of caring social workers in Burlington, Medicare or Medicaid, COTS, Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf and others who are there to help keep people like Steve from slipping through the cracks. But he didn't leave me convinced that he was taking advantage of those kinds of services.
At that moment I heard human voices, in unison, chanting slogans and a narrative, coming up Church Street. It was Burlington's Occupy Vermont protesters, an eclectic band of folks, marching up the street, carrying signs, inviting others to join them, speaking out about the disparity in wealth and corruption in America. How ironic. The Occupy protests on Church Street in Burlington, Vt., have something in common with a common homeless man, Steve. Steve could be a poster boy for Occupy. Hopefully his Thanksgiving holiday will include dinner in a warm place among friends.
I don't believe it is Steve's choice to live as he does. I think his lifestyle is beyond his locus of control at this point. Steve illustrates for me why we need to pay attention to others less fortunate than ourselves. As we approach the holiday season, I hope we keep in mind that there has never been a time in U.S. history when the gap between rich and poor has been so great. How can you help? Talk to the person you walk past on the street. Ask him or her about getting support from public services. If it moves you and you can spare a dollar, give some money to someone less fortunate than you. His or her gratitude will be well worth your investment in their peace of mind and future. Anything helps thank you.
Photos: Glenn Fay, Jr.