When a Texas man stopped at a drive-through restaurant to grab a quick dinner after a busy day he pulled out his credit card and waited while the clerk swiped and swiped, and tried again. It was denied. Apparently he had done so much shopping that day, the credit card company had put a stop on the card.
A young cook working in the back of the restaurant heard the conversation, jumped in, pulled out his own credit card, and paid for the man’s dinner. Of course the business man thanked him profusely. Then was on his way. That could have been the end of the story. But….
A couple of months later, the man gathered a number a people including the cook’s parents at the restaurant to honor the generosity of this young man. He thanked him again and gave him a $50 gift certificate, saying I just wanted to say “don’t stop being a good guy.”
People are good. I know we hear about shootings and looting and gang issues and hate-filled political rhetoric, but mostly, overwhelmingly? People are good. Remember that you are one of those good people. We're not supposed to hold that inside so no one knows we are good and wish good things for others. We are supposed to act on the needs we see.
A little encouragement goes a long way. A smile can relieve someone’s fears. Just holding the door for a person might be proof to them that at least at that moment they matter to someone.
We say “use your words!” to children who are crying for something and we can’t understand them. We expect them to help us out a little—let us know what the problem is. But when it comes to adults, we might have to ask in a better way. “What can I do to help?” “Can I give you a ride?” “Have you eaten today?” “Do you have a place to sleep?” “Do you need something?”
Think hard about all those who have helped you with encouragement, money, love, time, food, or support of some kind. Now look around and see how you can keep the chain going. People fall off the tracks sometimes. Some are born off the tracks. Hopefully, the rest of us won’t just walk by and let them get run over. It is a way to remember to thank those who have helped us along the way. Because every day is payback time.
A few years ago Steve Young was visiting his son in New York City and saw a sign in the window of a dry cleaning store—the business he was in back home in Portland, Oregon. The sign was offering free cleaning for anyone who was unemployed and needed clean clothes for a job interview. When he returned to Portland he put up his own sign. That was in March 2010.
Here was a business owner, struck by the idea of helping someone get a job, who decided he could help those in his own town. If he considered the risk to his own bottom line, it didn't stop him. Nor did the fact that there would be those who would take advantage of the offer (i.e. those who were actually employed seeking free cleaning services.)
Since the recession began back in 2008, joblessness has reached epic proportions in the U.S. and in many countries abroad. According to a recent CNN report, About 2.1 million Americans have been unable to get a job for over half a year, and many much much longer. The government calls these people the "long-term unemployed." This number is roughly double the number of long-term unemployed than in normal times. So helping to get these people back to work, back to a job that allows them to put food on the table for their families, pay rent and avoid homelessness, is a giant deal. Cleaning someone’s clothes might actually be the difference between tucking children to bed in the back seat of a car or tucking them into their beds at night.
So back to the dry cleaners offering free cleaning for the unemployed: From my research, I have found that this act of kindness has been picked up all over the world. No one knows who came up with the original effort, but the magic is that others who owned cleaning establishments picked up the idea and brought it to their own businesses, wherever they were located.
Since the large, prominently displayed signs went up — you can read their letters from a block away — a large number of jobseekers have taken the dry cleaners up on the offer.
People bring in suits. They bring in ties. They bring in skirts and slacks and shirts. A couple of women even brought in bathing suits.
Kathey Butters, the manager of Plaza Cleaners, one of Steve Young’s shops said, yes, they have even cleaned bathing suits, no questions asked. “Who are we to say?” Butters asked, chuckling. “It doesn’t matter what they bring in. My staff knows it’s not just another black skirt. They feel good when they’re in it,” she said. “If they could feel good in that clean, freshly pressed skirt or suit, they might sit taller or present themselves better. That little push might help.”
And that little push has helped. Over the years, people have come back to say "thank you" and say they got the job. “It isn’t us though. It isn’t Plaza. It’s our paying customers that make this possible. If we didn’t have our regular customers, we couldn’t clean at no charge. That’s who deserves thanks,” said Butters.
That’s what generosity is. As John Wesley said: Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. If you think these small acts aren’t world-changing, consider the move from being jobless to being employed for these people. Amazing.
Homelessness is everywhere, but in warm areas of the country, the numbers of homeless people are generally bigger and caring for them poses a year-round challenge.
New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley is such a place, and in 2011 a camp for local homeless people was provided on city land. Dubbed Camp Hope, all it was was a place to pitch fifty or so tents. In the years that have followed, platforms have been built so the tents didn’t sit right on the ground and a nearby strip mall has been re-developed to provide social services, including a medical clinic and a soup kitchen where social workers connect with camp residents to help them with government aid.
To Mesilla Valley's credit, most of these services involve the work and effort of various local charitable agencies. But, the lack of real toilets and showers has always been a problem. In a place where dessert dust and dirt is a constant challenge, bathing out of a small bowl inside a tent is not very effective.
Enter Matt Holt, a professor at New Mexico State and his sister Julie Wilson, CEO of a business development group in Ft. Worth, TX., who started a movement called Project Dignity to improve the sanitary facilities at the camp. The effort has raised $65,000 from individuals, businesses, and the local Lions Club and Good Samaritan Society. They plan to build a facility--with a lot of donated labor and goods--that will include showers and toilets, along with a covered patio area and outdoor kitchen that can be used for cooking.
What would it mean to any of us to live without our bathrooms and kitchens? How can the value of a generous effort like this be measured?
So two people with comfortable lives, busy jobs and more than enough to do looked around and saw a place they could improve the existence of strangers living without basic necessities.
Some of these strangers are homeless veterans, others have had lives of tremendous difficulty. But for everyone at Camp Hope, these facilities are going to dramatically improve the current quality of life--all thanks to a brother and sister who cared enough to do a great and generous thing.
Let's all look around and see what we can do in our own communities and when you do, let me know. I'd love to write about you!