On Tuesday of this week, Giver Boy went out to our mailbox after dinner. I waited at the door for him, fully expecting that he’d return with a handful of Christmas cards and bills, possibly a big fat envelope from Snapfish with our own Christmas photo card order. Instead, he returned with a single envelope.
It was a letter from the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, a non-profit based in our former Philadelphia that serves meals and provides shelter and rehabilitative services to homeless men and women across the city. The letter was soliciting donations to cover the cost of their Christmas dinners.
The trippiest part? The amount they asked for…they said we could cover 26 meals by giving fifty-two dollars and fifty-two cents.
I’ve always had an especially soft spot for homeless ministries, ever since my own father was evicted from his apartment (and his life, really) in early 2001. I will never forget the look on his face, the smell of his hug, the fray of his hair the first time my brother and I visited with him (in a public library) after that happened. He was spending his nights at a Salvation Army shelter then. A few weeks later, he transitioned to more of a dorm-style setup at a YMCA. We hoped that this would be a temporary arrangement, a safe place to layover while he recovered and got his life back in order…unfortunately, we were wrong.
My father struggles with mental illness. His years at the YMCA were a rollercoaster–sometimes I would call the hallway payphone and I’d reach him right away, sometimes whoever answered the phone would say they hadn’t seen him in a few days. Sometimes another man’s voice would sound like his, and I’d venture, tentatively…”Daddy?” Sometimes he was in one of the state’s psychiatric hospitals for a month, two months, three months…
The last time I saw my father was in late 2005. The last time I talked to him on the phone, in early 2007, he’d been evicted from another apartment, a post-YMCA place he was able to sustain with his disability check. He was staying at a hotel until his money ran out. I paid for that particular night on my credit card. He’s been unreachable since.
I miss my father. I really freaking miss my father. But guess what–I know there are a lot of young women, and men, out there missing their fathers, their mothers…mothers and fathers missing their sons and daughters…brothers and sisters missing their siblings. Homelessness is often a much more complex issue than we guess it to be. Some of the homeless have just lost their house, sure. But so many others have lost their way. That’s a lot harder to get back.
I know the folks at Sunday Breakfast understand this, and I can’t ignore the strange serendipity of the amount they’ve requested. I know it’s not 2011 yet, but for Christmas…for my daddy…I am going to give an early gift to the homeless men and women of Philadelphia.