By Sarah Baker, 8th Grade, Wydown Middle School
It was 6:00 on a Tuesday morning and I stood there behind the counter scrambling eggs. I listened while another volunteer, Morty, told Amanda-With-The-Purple-Headband how he was going to furnish her new house, the house she was planning to move into, in the neighborhood that she said wasn’t nice. Finally. Because this was an upgrade. After she moved from church to synagogue to different church every night for who knows how long, she would have a place to call her own. And she could live there with her two sons who were also stuck in this situation. Stuck being homeless. Probably feeling helpless.
But she has one.
And Morty, who has been on a spiritual journey ever since his wife died from cancer, has one. Maybe he wants to fulfill plans that he and his wife had hatched before she died. Or maybe he wants to fill a hole, an emptiness, he has inside of him. Maybe he just wants to find peace. And I, frantically moving the eggs across the pan so they don’t burn, have one. And my mom, trying to soften rock-hard bagels in the synagogue microwave, has one. We all have one. One chance. Each person has one chance, at each moment, to make an impact. Everyone has the power to change the world in a small way. We have the choice of how to use our power. Our actions can inspire other people to use their ones, and then we become two ones united. When we all use our power of one together, we can make a difference.
My mom and I used our ones to come to synagogue at 7:00 on a Monday night. I used my one to run around a preschool playroom and play basketball with kids I had met that night. I used it to wake up at 5:30 the next morning in a sleeping bag on the ground to make breakfast for people who deserve so much more than blueberry pancakes from a box. And a few months before, I used my one to speak with my mom on the bema in front of my congregation about volunteering with these women and children who are homeless. And somewhere in that audience was Morty. And my one inspired him to be there with me on this Monday night, a few months later. And now he is using his one to try to furnish Amanda-With-The-Purple-Headband’s new house. Though small, our ones have linked together to make an impact.
I have been volunteering with Room at the Inn since I was seven years old. Room at the Inn is a program for homeless women and children, where, each night, they sleep in a different church or synagogue. Congregation Shaare Emeth hosts on the first Monday of every month. My mom and I often sign up for the overnight shift. We try to come around 7:30 so that the kids will still be awake. When we arrive, the kids and I run around and play, play, play. Then we put away the scooters, the basketballs, and the little cars. I shove the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and the Three Little Pigs book back in the cluttered closet. And as they slip under their covers, I hand each kid a stuffed animal from the collection in my basement, because everyone should have something to hold onto when life get rough, when it feels like they have no control.
I wake up at 5:30 on Tuesday in my sleeping bag and crack the eggs. The women and children slowly traipse into the kitchen. We are all still groggy. I sprinkle the melted cheese on the scrambled eggs and set out the cereal and the microwavable french toast. After everyone has eaten, when all the women and children have headed back to the day shelter, and Mom and I drive home to quickly shower and get ready for school, I think about what my mom once said. The world should not be divided into usand them.
No one deserves to sleep on an air mattress in a different place every night. And even though I do not do much to help anyone break free of poverty, even though I do not grant anyone’s wish for a home to return to every day, I show the simple truth that someone cares. That I care. Because sometimes, that is all that we can do.
This article was originally published in St. Louis Jewish Parents magazine, May 2016. Posted with permission.
Photo courtesy of Shana Watkins and St. Louis Jewish Parents magazine