When my children, Christy and Paul, were three and four years of age, we moved from Atlanta to Winter Park, Florida, a nice suburb of Orlando. Not long after we moved there, I kept hearing about homelessness in Orlando. Atlanta is much bigger than Orlando. What could be unique about homelessness in Orlando? I soon found out.

Homelessness in Atlanta vs. Winter Park, Florida

In Atlanta, much of the homeless population has family in town. Those family members are sometimes a resource for the homeless.

In Orlando, much of the homeless population is comprised of former tourists. The tourists’ decision to move to Orlando is based solely on a good time they had on a Disney vacation. Those tourists do not plan well. They move to Orlando and get a minimum wage job. Within three paychecks they are homeless.

When we lived in Winter Park, we were active members of Orlando First United Methodist Church, which was located in downtown Orlando.

One Sunday morning we were going to Sunday School. When we walked by the sanctuary, there was a homeless woman sound asleep in the doorway. The children noticed her and I knew they would probably mention it later. That very night, Christy did.

Now I lay me down to sleep

In those days Christy and Paul had recently memorized the beloved children’s prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” Recited at bedtime every night, they ended the prayer with, “Please bless Grandma and Papa.” The very day we saw the sleeping homeless woman, when Christy said her prayers that night, she said, “guide me safely thought the night and wake me with the sunshine bright. Please bless Grandma and Papa, and Mama and Daddy, and please help the homeless know that I love them.” Wow! What an insightful prayer for a 3-year-old! Christy seemed to sense that the homeless feel invisible and forgotten.

The Trinity Soup Kitchen in Atlanta

When Christy and Paul were 6 and 7 years of age, we moved back to Atlanta where we became active members at Northside United Methodist Church. One Sunday, it was Northside’s turn to volunteer at the Trinity soup kitchen, in downtown Atlanta. Christy, Paul and I participated that day.

When we arrived at Trinity, we were all assigned jobs. My assignment was to make tea. Christy was tasked with keeping the baskets of crackers filled. Paul’s assignment was to go back and forth, from the kitchen to the tables, and refill the peoples’ soup bowls.

Paul regales the homeless at Trinity

All afternoon, from my vantage point in the kitchen, I watched Paul in action. A very happy, sociable 9-year-old, he approached the people at each table with a cheerful, “Hi! How are you? Good to see you!” He looked people in the eye as he had conversations with them. He listened to everybody. He connected with everybody. As he refilled their soup bowls, he showed a genuine interest in all the people. He got them talking about themselves and things in which they were interested.

When the meal was over, and cleanup was complete, Paul said, “Mama! You gotta meet this jazz piano player!” So we went over to him, I introduced myself and we shook hands. Paul then said to the man, “Please play something for us on the piano!” The man graciously agreed and we enjoyed the impromptu concert.

We’re all proud of our children just because they are our children. When they start achieving things we are proud of our children for their achievements. Christy is a classically trained violinist. Paul is an Eagle scout. They are well educated and both have fabulous careers. They generously share their resources and time with some very worthy causes in Atlanta. Ultimately, I am most proud of Paul and Christy for the kind and giving young adults they are.

Through the years, because of Christy’s prayer, I have prayed, “…please help the homeless know that I love them.” Better still, volunteering at a soup kitchen and ministering to the homeless puts that prayer into action. Definitely. Please help the homeless know that we all love them.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a writer, avid cyclist, history enthusiast and ardent reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at pamterrellwalker@gmail.com.

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