When I was a teenager, some Saturdays my mom would wake me up and drive us down to our local church for a day-long extravaganza of volunteering. We’d meet up with other groggy teens and their parents at Saint Gabriel (where I also went to school) to put together care packages for the local homeless community. There’d be an assembly line of people dropping in toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and other ordinary bath products into these translucent flesh-colored Kroger grocery bags. Everyone had their part to play - someone owned shampoo, another handled tying off the bags, and some unidentified dad was in charge of piling them into boxes and dropping them outside by the cars.
When we had enough to fill a fleet of vehicles, we all crammed into this rickety white moving van for a 30-minute hellish drive downtown. Palms bracing to the inside walls of the vehicle. With every pothole, we’d all jump and chuckle with a slight fear of crashing. And on we went rolling down Meridian Street to St. Vincent de Paul.
We hobbled out, carrying as many boxes as we could, and charged through the double doors of this massive warehouse. Stacks of old velvety couches and clunky oak tables surrounded us. People were shopping for furniture they needed for their homes. I remember thinking, with my dense little teenage mind, how cool it would be to shop for furniture without having to pay for anything. I was more concerned about cute boys in attendance. Teenagers are awful that way, aren’t they?
Once we got everything sorted out, had some donuts (what is it with Catholics and our donuts?), we piled in coffee and other breakfast items back into bigger moving trucks. Fold-out tables, bags, clothes, all things that were quite ordinary, but didn’t really have a place in your mind. You know, the things you just don’t think about having or not having.
We followed these big moving trucks to a park downtown. There were more of us, now. People from other churches, volunteers from the organization, a hodgepodge of givers - and people I barely took the time to know. I regret that now.
That park is a place I come back to a lot in my mind. The tedious assembly of items that I never think about having suddenly became tangible. In a way that holding my toothbrush every morning and night wasn’t. We were surrounded by a herd of people coming into the park, just to get these items. Just to snag a fresh toothbrush, some soap, a men’s jacket... tampons. I would stop and just stare. Not because I was surprised, or even scared, which I think a part of me was, but it was just to observe. I remember a guy my dad’s age, peruse the rack of blazers. A volunteer helped him find one just his size. I thought, I wonder what he’ll do with that.
To watch someone you’ve never really seen before is a surreal experience. That park housed so many lives that day that I had never recognized, that I had never been exposed to. There’s so much simultaneous suffering and love, giving and taking, confusion and clarity. I was curious how it felt like to need such basic things, but was also too scared to think of it all. What if this happened to me?
This whole idea of really seeing people has become a bit of an obsession for me now. Both in my work and in my personal life - it’s what I focus on to be better. But the challenge is that when you see people who need help, it’s hard to figure out how much of yourself to give. As selfless as we try to be, we only have so many sacrifices we’re willing to make. We only have so many resources we can provide. So how do we do it all? How do we give and also make sure we’re not giving our whole lives away? How do I help people in need while also maintaining a lifestyle that fits the needs of my family? My future?
I guess that’s what brings me here to well, good. As I build out my business and life, I want it to be full of everything. I never understood having to choose one thing over another, and I’m tired of feeling like that’s the only option we’ve been given. Either do well OR do good. Either focus on being successful or dedicate your life to supporting others and sacrifice the luxuries you’re surrounded by in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I want to be able to reject that thought - but it’s so real for so many people.
I don’t want to have to give up one. I want to do well AND do good. And hopefully, through this exploration, we’ll all get a better understanding of how to achieve this balance. One by one, tossing our two cents into a grocery bag, handing it off to the next, and piling it into a story we can tell together.