“Oh, no! Where are we going to park?” It’s almost always our biggest problem when we head
to DC to feed homeless people. Drive around the block. It will be OK. Well, OK enough. Each
of the four vehicles soon ended up with a place to park. Fifteen junior and senior high teens
walked to the truck to take the coolers to the small plaza next to New York Avenue Presbyterian
Church, a stately 19th century structure with a slender, towering spire nestled in a small triangular
block of the city.
The teens moved slowly and uncertainly, carrying their loads to one of the benches that ringed
the inside edge of the tiny park. Some of the homeless people walked up to the coolers to
partake of the hot dogs, potato chips, brownies, juice and water. A few of the older teens had
worked with us in the summer in Richmond and quickly began to strike up conversations, but
most of them stood by the coolers, nervously looking around the park and at the ground.
After about 15 awkward minutes, William Daniels, our coordinator for the DC ministry, gathered
some of the youth, a couple of the adults and headed down the street toward the White House,
where other homeless people dotted the entryways of buildings, vacant on Sunday, and wide
places in the sidewalk. These are the folks who most often miss meals.
I stayed behind with another group of mostly junior high youth, their discomfort still evident. I
asked Oliver to join me at the cluster of teens. I think he was as nervous as they were. He
shared a quick outline of his story, about how long he had been on the streets and his struggle
with alcohol. I coaxed him into sharing how he had briefly relapsed after six months of sobriety.
The teens listened politely, but remained silent. This was such a new world for them.
By this time, Paul, who could pass for Lou Rawl’s brother, began to tease and joke with some of
the other teens. I could see the tension melt off their faces as they laughed with him.
After about 20 minutes, William and his crew returned. Everybody at the park had gotten plenty
to eat so we prayed with anyone who wanted it. I was surprised, because for the first time in 20
years, every homeless person in the park joined us for prayer. After the prayer, there were some
handshakes and hugs and we all headed down the street toward the entrance to Chinatown.
After two blocks, we stopped at a small, grassy park where a handful of homeless people were
stretched out on the grass or on benches. I was surprised when we set down the coolers. Several
of the quiet teens reached in the cooler, grabbed food and drinks and walked around the park
offering their goods to the homeless people, smiling and looking them in the eye. The
discomfort they had been showing was replaced by joy and a sense of purpose.
I’ll never get tired of seeing that change. They proved themselves to be young adults, not
children, who had the courage to step out of their comfort zones and do something to glorify
God. As they loaded into their vans, I knew they would be back, and they’ll challenge their
church to do the same.