Today a colleague and good friend got into the office a bit late. Kelly came straight to my office, sat on my little sofa, buried her head in her hands, and started sobbing.
Had she been in a wreck? Had an argument at home? Gotten some bad news?
I joined her on the sofa and patted her back, and quickly her story came out.
This morning the temperature here in Kansas City was below zero F, with a wind chill of -18. As my friend had come into the building, she brushed past a woman who was just leaving; she’d come in to ask for one of the sack lunches we give out to folks who need them to get through the day. This woman had nothing over her clothing but a thin bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders. No coat. No gloves. No hat.
Turned out, she didn’t speak English. Kelly managed to get the message across that she should stay put for a moment. She dashed to our warehouse, where we have a few coats left from our charity Christmas shop in December, at which low income families come to pick out gifts for everyone living in their household, free of charge. All she could find was a men’s coat, but she hurried back to the waiting room with it. The woman accepted the coat, with tears and many repetitions of “Gracias!”
It seems like a happy ending. So why was my friend so distraught? I knew without asking, but she said it anyway.
“What we do is just chalk drawings in a rain storm.”
Kelly and I have had this conversation before. One day in December she and I made Christmas gift deliveries to seven of our agency’s homebound clients. It was an afternoon of driving through neighborhoods we’d never dare visit after dark. So much need. So little hope. Poor schools. No grocery stores. Few jobs. Very effectively segregated, 60 years after the civil rights movement.
We wished we could feel good that afternoon, making Christmas a little brighter for seven individuals/families. Instead we finished the day emotionally exhausted and incredibly discouraged. How many hundreds of crumbling homes did we pass by that day, where that same help – and more – is needed?
The church-backed nonprofit organization Kelly and I are employed by does excellent work. It’s a well-respected force for good in our city. Even though there are significant down sides to my new job, I’m thankful to be there, doing work that I know is meaningful to the people we’re able to touch. And yet, no matter how much good we do, it’s only a tiny drop in a distressingly enormous bucket.
Charity is not enough. It will never, ever be enough in this greedy capitalist nation. It will never, ever be enough as long as our government officials follow the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan) and Confederate heroes (I’m looking at you, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III). Nothing will be righted until every single child in many successive generations receives a top-notch education. Until every single person of every color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression has the same economic rights, the same voting rights, the same dignity.
Until that day comes, we watch the chalk drawings we hastily scribble on the sidewalk wash away with every rainstorm.