Got schooled by the homeless in Philly today, a lesson in gratitude, respect & honor. Don’t let anyone tell you we’re not the City of Brotherly Love. I will be all over them like mustard on a soft pretzel. You can take the girl out of Overbrook…
Life threatening frigid temperatures in Philly. Code Blue. I’m in my safe suburban cocoon lamenting with a friend, lazily discussing how it’s just too cold to do anything. Visions of the homeless in center city sleeping on cardboard boxes or damp steam vents. Didn’t know what, but I had to do something.
Got off of spreading rear and sprung into action. Solicited donations from friends, rounded up Linda and we headed down I-95 in the Prius weighed down with blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes, fruit, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and coffee shop gift cards. We were Thelma and Louise. And at times Lucy and Ethel. What’s that nice smell Linda? Angel Perfume. Oh.
We rounded Love Park, spotted a man sitting on a crate so I pulled into an alley and double-parked. Linda grabbed some stuff and took off. The Philadelphia Parking Authority is notoriously nasty – they even have their own reality show. I was spotted by one, walking by writing in his little book. Busted. He looked over at my car – and kept walking. Linda came back breathless, flushed and smiling. He was gone but a homeless woman found me and asked if she could have them. We were in business.
Hi Hon, are you warm enough? Are you hungry?
I look over and see Linda tucking a warm blanket around a man sitting on a crate, part June Cleaver, part Mother Divine. Linda was raised in an orphanage. I constantly long for my mother she told me one time.
We headed down Front Street to South Philly under I-95. Stop! We chatted with Anthony, who was in his early 40’s. He was bright, articulate and down-right cheerful. Anthony could be one of my friends. We piled it on into his grateful arms. “God bless you. Got any jeans?” Only about a hundred pairs I thought, most brand-new or hardly worn, rejected by my son and piled in the basement.
It was late afternoon. Last stop was Benjamin Franklin Parkway, across from the Four Seasons Hotel. They’re at the shelters for dinner if they can get it. They’ll be back. We gingerly walked around, checking things out. It was a tent city without the tents. Cardboard boxes laying flat. Neat, clearly defined piles of wet clothing and a few personal items. It was clear there was an honor code. It was all they had, yet they respected the boundaries of others. A few books were open and places marked, kept safe from the elements in plastic bags. I want to see what they’re reading. I didn’t dare. It was private. Next time I’m bringing books, some of the hundreds I have, unread because “I haven’t had the time.”
We were Fairy Godmothers now (I have a strange imagination that scares my kids and worries my husband) carefully placing hats, gloves, blankets, sleeping bags, gift cards and everything we had left on their homes. It was twilight hour. I glanced over at Linda. She was bathed in a pink shimmering glow. We stood to offer a silent blessing. What happened next I will never forget. I was hit with a blast of heart-opening love and gratitude that nearly knocked me off my feet and sent shivers up my spine. It wasn’t aimed at just this body; the love bomb went out to the entire universe and beyond because in Philly, that’s how we roll.
Our group will be heading out to Center City every Tuesday. Donations of blankets, sleeping bags, warm coats, hats, scarves, gloves and bottled water are appreciated. Cash donations for coffee shop gift cards can be made with credit cards through PayPal at https://nancybragin.com/the-enlighten-game/
The City of Philadelphia has declared a Code Blue Alert advising of severe cold weather. If you see a homeless person on the street, please call the Project Home Outreach Hotline at 215-232-1984.