Four years ago, we were preparing for my dad’s funeral by early morning light. I was back in my childhood home under the redwoods in my mom’s kitchen; writing a joint eulogy with my sister and pouring some good whiskey into a flask for the three of us. It was rough but we were determined to make the best of it, in our own special way.
Many of the day’s events we planned were unique, using our grief as an excuse to have some fun. We decided to end the doins’ with a game of “what’s this for?” A game where we showed the crowd stuff my dad had made for very specific reasons and had them guess what its function was.
For instance; this is a sock hamper, specifically designed to keep terriers away from your dirty socks and ONLY used for socks.
Needing some purpose in the days before I could fly out west, I started the WWDD Homeless pack project in order to introduce and explain our intentions for the memorial the following week. Instead of flowers we asked that everyone bring survival supplies: backpacks, rain gear, toiletries, first aid, socks, etc. We set up some tables along the wall and asked at the end for everyone to compile “homeless packs.”
Homeless packs were a thing my dad used as an excuse to buy military surplus items in bulk. He would put together kits filled with useful things for people living out of doors. He would keep two or three of these in the trunk of his car at all times and giving them out when he ran across people in need of such items.
The response was unexpected. As people arrived, they bought their items with them, overflowing three whole tables with gear and supplies. During the event we explained that this was meant as a personal act of kindness, an opportunity to look someone in the eye and not only acknowledge their suffering but to give them a gift that might help alleviate it somewhat. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something nice without expectation of reciprocity.
My dad used to fill his pockets with quarters for our trips to SF and make us give to pan handlers. As I grow older I would often asked “why?” Other people had made me aware of arguments against such actions:
“They will only use it for drugs.”
“They could be dangerous people.”
“It is there own fault they are on the streets to begin with, why give they your hard earned money?!”
My dad would respond with scripture (not something he was prone to) “there, but for the grace of god go I.” He grew up in the Vietnam era and saw his peers retun broken with no resources to lift them up and so they continued to spiral down. We were taught it was not our place to judge why others were as they were or what they would use the money for. It was emphasized that we were fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. It was not because we were better than other people or worked harder, many times it came down to luck of the draw.
Anyone who would like to dispute this assertion without ever having talked with someone living on the street- should do so first, ideally more than once. Because of this practice I have spent a lot of time listening to such people. Yes, some of their stories could be lies or BS but most of the time it is obviously not. If the only interactions you have had with the homeless is to judge them from afar; I would assert you have no idea what you are speaking about and while you are entitled to your opinion on the topic, it should be a quite one. Preferably kept in ones own head.
My dad was lucky enough to have some amazing friends he had made during his tenure at Apple, where he worked for about 15 years. They took this concept and ran with it in a way that still amazes me. Not only did they take up the practice themselves but they have spent the last few years making it into an actual charity. They named it “It’s A SAK (Simple Act with Kindness)” a play on “It’s a wrap.” Something my dad would say at the end of meetings.
In the beginning they created fundraisers to collect supplies.
They even brought goofy pictures of my dad along so he would be represented at the shindigs.
This was soon followed by sewing parties where they would physically construct “SAKs” to be filled and given out.
They didn’t stop there! They successfully applied for non-profit status and become a 501(c)(3) organization.
Yesterday there was a post on my FB wall:
“864 pairs of new Bombas socks have been donated to “Dignity on Wheels (Project WeHOPE)” by “It’s A SAK.” One new pair will be given to each person receiving services from Dignity on Wheels. Many thanks to our generous donors for making this possible!”
They have continued to collect donations and organize distribution of necessities. All of them are talented designers and web gurus and have lent their talents to constructing a cohesive web presence for the cause.
This time of year, as we are all preoccupied with decorations, gifts, parties and largely frivolous endeavors- it is important to remember those who have no place to put a tree, hang stocking or string lights. People who spend cold nights sleeping on the ground, not knowing where or if, they will get food the next day.
Their post reminded me that all of this started with the sharing of an idea. Most of my dad’s friends were unaware of his homeless pack habit. When my sister and I shared this concept as a way of honoring him in our grief, we had no idea that it would grow and continue to expand. It is important to remember that even though there is now an organization to donate to at its core this is meant to be a personal act of kindness that needs no middle man.
I am humbled at what these wonderful people have achieved and take no credit for the good they have spread. I only wanted to write again and hope that this seed can continue to grow. Even if you don’t do anything personally except share this concept- you never know who or what you might inspire.
Our country today seems filled with an epidemic of selfish actions and ideals. it is easy to overlook how little it takes so bring about meaningful change. Making your neighborhood a better place, starts when you stop casting blame and judgement and take a second to give what you can and help when you are able. I almost never share my own personal acts of charity because to do so seems like bragging or using such things for attention but sometimes I have to remind myself that sharing stories, ideas and deeds can inspire others and makes magic.
Share these ideas and pages:
Four years later, I greeted the snow filled dawn from my own kitchen on the other side of the country. Pregnant and far removed from the community of my own birth. It is good to remind myself that you never know what ripple you might start. It is important to stop focusing on all that is going sideways and take some time to look at the simple good that can happen when kindness is given without expectation.
Most of all I wanted to acknowledge all the people who are still taking time to make a difference in their communities. I am blessed to know such lovely souls and grateful they exist in the world.
Be well, be kind and if you have extra to give, do.