2020 will be one for our history books. As we face the COVID-19 pandemic, destruction coming from so many storms and horrendous fires, racial disparities, and tension in our community and systems it feels overwhelmingly sad and heart wrenching. I often hear the word “maddening” to describe the current state of affairs.
And yet, I cannot ignore the abundance of gifts surrounding us.
One gift is my coworkers, who showed courageous leadership ensuring Friendship House stayed open the past eight months. They displayed compassion as they handed out hundreds of cups of coffee, not once letting the danger of getting sick get in their way of showing love through their masked faces and gloved hands. They remained a team, some even remotely, to make sure every need was filled.
Another gift has been you: our loving and supportive community. We hit records this spring in personal giving and with our Highmark Walk fundraiser. We hit records in donations of food to our residents and our Empowerment Center guests. You held on to your clothing donations until we were ready to take them. We asked and you responded, again and again. You loved us and those we serve even when you couldn’t be there in person to tell us.
This year could have caused us to hunker down, protect our assets and wait out the storm. Maybe even cut back and shrink to ensure no losses. Instead, because of our loving and supportive community, we responded to the cries of help with an abundance of gifts.
When we heard the cries of our community saying they can’t afford to pay for the most necessary items, we responded by expanding our Empowerment Center services. When we heard the cries of our community saying there is not enough affordable housing, we responded by growing and changing our Transitional Housing program. When we heard the cries of students in need of school uniforms, our Clothing Bank committed to get them the clothing they desperately need. All because of you: our worshipping communities, foundations, and businesses.
Another gift this year has been the gift we receive from our guests every day. Friendship House uses Jesus as an example of how to serve others. We are reminded of his call to action: when you serve the hungry, thirsty or homeless, you serve him.
When you open your heart during the act of serving, you realize you are the one receiving the gift. When our guests come to us for assistance like a cup of coffee, a room in one of our houses, a coat on a cold night, they are giving us a gift. Their gratitude and grace lets us know we matter, too. There is a powerful gift in knowing you matter. Each of us can give that gift, regardless of where you call home.
Friendship House believes the solution to homelessness is community. True community is when there is mutual giving and receiving of each other’s gifts from God. This is at the heart of what we do. Many of the guests we are blessed to work with understand that. So much so I sometimes wonder if we are mislabeling who is experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness is stretching far and wide this year as millions are losing their savings. More than 200,000 Americans have lost their lives in less than seven months from COVID-19 related deaths and that number is rising. There is a political divide greater than anything most of us have ever experienced. And still, this year continues to provide us gifts. You may have to squint hard to see them, but they are there.
It is through this mutual giving and receiving, with grace, love and support from one another, we will all find a way home.
– Kim Eppehimer (Executive Director)