Christmas in a homeless shelter can be a place of sadness. In the heightened joy and glitter of season, when people are scurrying about buying gifts, sharing hugs and well-wishes, the state of homelessness feels all that more oppressive, all that more surreal. So many people lost. So many missing.
In the excess that is Christmas time, the lack of ‘everything’ is heightened. While we plan on gatherings around dining room tables laden with food, those experiencing homelessness plan on a day like every other. And though they too will be sharing in turkey and hams and home cooked meals, they’ll be sharing them with those who share the lack that is homelessness.
Creating special times at Christmas can be challenging for staff at a shelter. In 2007, Jennie and Dan Keeran walked into my office at the shelter where I used to work and explained how they wanted to make everyone at the shelter feel special. Their project was, and continues to be called, Homeless Partners.
“We have a database in which we enter everyone’s names and a short story about them, along with their Christmas Wish,” Jennie explained as if there was nothing to interviewing 1,000+ people, loading the data into a database, gathering the gifts, sorting them and passing them out.
It was her belief, her passion and her absolute conviction it was doable that convinced me to say, “Of course we want to be part of it all!”
I’m so grateful I did. I’m so grateful for JEnnie and Dan who continue to run Homeless Partners (www.homelesspartners.com) across the country. Their vision creates magic and wonder in the lives of thousands. Their heart melts even the coldest night.
One of the most important, and moving, parts of the Wish List are the interviews. Volunteers come in and meet with clients and share a few moments talking about their lives. In my daughter, Alexis’ blog today, she shares what happened for her when she came in to sit down with clients and ask gentle, yet probing questions that allowed them to make a connection and share their Christmas wish. I remember the night she writes of, the man she hugged, the tears they shared. It was a tender, delicate moment that lit up my heart too.
Last night, my youngest daughter went with a friend to The Madison and interviewed the tenants for our mini-version of The Christmas WishList. The Madison is an apartment building for formerly homeless veterans that is owned by the Foundation I work for and operated by Alpha House. Through the concert and other activities, I raise funds for Christmas at the Madison to ensure each veteran feels connected, remembered and part of a community.
As I sat and watched my daughter and her friend interact with the gentlemen at the Madison I felt the grace of Love and compassion descend. Two young 20 something women sat in the common room and greeted the residents with a smile and invited them to sit down for a chat. They laughed and shared and filled in the questionnaire and the men were gracious and funny and caring as they talked about their past, what they like most about being at The Madison and what it is they want most for Christmas, and in their lives.
I am grateful. Years ago, Jennie and Dan walked into my office and shared an idea. Their idea continues to grow and glow and inspire others to share the spirit and beauty of Christmas however they can.
I will be putting the WishList up on my blog tomorrow and Friday in the hopes that others join us in creating community at the MAdison this Christmas.
If you’re in Calgary and want to play a part, please send me an email at louise[at]louisegallagher.ca and I’ll send you the details. I’ve already received 15 jars of homemade jam from the lovely Joy M who like last year, gives from her heart to make Christmas a home-grown event at The Madison.
Blessings and light to all.