“Wait till you see my feet… you won’t be smiling no more!” the man chuckled with his lips curling into a smile.
The wrinkles on his face betrayed his young age. The volunteer laughed warmly as she started to remove his discolored, worn-down sneakers — if you could call them shoes. Beyond broken in, the darkly crusted laces puffed out a cloud of dust as she began to untie them.
She pulls off his grey socks — once white — and she carefully places his feet into the washing bin. He flinches, unused to the touch of clean water swell around his toes, but finally begins to relax — restfully placing his interlocked fingers onto his belly.
Armed with gloves, soap, and a lot of love, she gently washes away weeks — maybe even months — of grime and grit. There isn’t any hesitation in her motions as she calmly continues to pour pitchers of water over the crooks and crannies of his feet. Focused, her eyes gleam with grace the stranger in front of her is probably not used to. Grace on Skid Row is always at a premium.
They continue to engage in conversation as she dries his feet off with a fresh towel. This was her first time volunteering at the Mission and he has been around Skid Row for one too many nights. If you had removed the wash bin, you would have thought they’d been friends for ages — the authentic tone in their voices erased the reality of the circumstances.
“Can I pray for you?” she asks.
He shyly mumbles some words I couldn’t overhear, and it was probably for the best — sacred moment are better left untainted. She lifts up some words of prayer and stands to retrieve one of the UCLA podiatrists on call. Equally as friendly as the volunteer, the physician and the supporting medical students begin to ask questions to ascertain the overall health of the man’s feet.
While running through a battery of different tests, the medical students offer the man useful tips on how he can maintain better foot health. With each piece of advice, his furrowed brow lifts with more and more understanding. They offer fresh new socks — a luxury — and direct him to the section where he would be given new shoes.
Many of these unique stations were trickled around our parking lot, as our Thanksgiving Outreach tries to give those living on the dangerous streets of Skid Row a comprehensive list of items necessary to get through another day. To the left of the foot washing station, other volunteers were handing out toiletries — shampoo, toothpaste, and the like, much to the delight of those in line.
For those needing legal counsel, a group from Loyola Marymount University set up a booth to hear the struggles of the homeless with so little hope left in their pockets. The lawyers-turned-listeners each carried a packet of tissues, as tears would frequently roll down the faces of those airing out their troubles. The lawyers repay those tears with hope and many left those tables with a definite change in their countenance. Someone had heard their story, and they were equipped with the knowledge to do something about it.
A Persian group from Palos Verdes was eager to serve Skid Row’s denizens a filling meal of chicken, salad, and fruit. Like clockwork, this group would take the meal ticket provided to each person in line and produced a box filled to the brim with food, sending a few back inside to reload when needed.
Today was not the day people would go hungry.
As the event was coming to a close, I couldn’t help but notice the booth at the center of our parking lot. Sitting behind the table sat two men, twirling pencils in their hands. In front of them were stacks of blank papers accompanied with the sign — Cartoons.
They had spent the whole morning volunteering their time drawing caricatures of anyone who would want one. Young and old would line up, and each would seek me out to take their picture — to capture a screenshot of their joy. Sometimes it isn’t enough to just give people “necessities”, but giving them something as superfluous as a caricature goes a long way.
Something about offering your gifts, whether if it’s legal advice, medical work, cartooning, or even just giving up your Saturday morning, made me contemplate the true meaning of being thankful. And much of that was present — thankfulness was present in the servants and the served.
None of this work would be possible without the good work and donations that people like you cheerfully give to Union Rescue Mission. This day was just one of 365 days that helps make the Mission a light in the darkness.
At this time last year I did not believe I would be blogging about Thanksgiving in 2011. On November 20th after a busy night of deep-frying 200 turkeys from 11p.m. until dawn at Union Rescue Mission in preparation for our big Thanksgiving event, my kidneys failed and for a few weeks I wasn’t sure I would make it. I certainly believed I would have to retire and go on disability, as I signed up and began the necessary testing process to determine if kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant were options I could consider. My world was turned upside down.
However, with some encouraging words by Dr. Nirmal Kumar that I needed to “work until I dropped”, strong support from my wife and the Board of Directors & team at URM, tripling of my medication, drinking two glasses of water with a tea spoon of baking soda each day, and going on a strict low phosphorous and low potassium diet, mostly made up of vegetables, fruits and water, along with several rounds of shots of Procrit to boost my red blood cells and rid me of dizziness I was experiencing, my kidney function has improved from 15% to 24%, moving me far away from dialysis for the time being.
I’ve not only improved remarkably in kidney function, but I’ve lost 34 lbs, my red blood cell count has improved and my cholesterol is so good that hopefully the blockage in my heart and arteries is being reduced! I’ve tightened the control of my type 1 diabetes to the point that my tests almost ring true of a normal healthy person!
This strict regimen is the only way for me, as I’ve been dropped off the transplant list. It seems that I cannot get a transplant until I have an angioplasty to remove a blockage in my heart, and the dye put into my body for the angioplasty would destroy the rest of my kidney function. So I am stuck in a bit of a quandary, but I’ve decided to stay on the strict diet and regimen, and keep doing this work that I love so much.
I haven’t had a diet soda, chocolate, cheese, dairy of any kind, chips, potatoes, and my favorite sweet potatoes or baked beans in nearly 1 year, but it is easy to follow a diet when it keeps you alive and doing the work that you love!
I lost a dear friend this week, a hero of mine, who fell ill at the same time that I did last year. I don’t fully understand God’s grace to me through this difficult time, but I am so thankful. My wife shared with me last week, “that we have so much to be thankful for!”
So, again this year I will be up with the URM team, strong, and deep-frying 200 turkeys overnight on Friday and early Saturday morning, preparing to feed 4500 precious friends at our big Thanksgiving event at URM. And to top it off, I’m feeling well enough to spend the night on the streets with my precious friends tonight to raise awareness of the plight of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. The honor of serving in this ministry and spending time with my family and friends has driven me to do what it takes to survive, and I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Thanks, again, for your faithful prayers!
As we begin to count down the final days of 2009, please take a moment to watch this quick update on all that’s happening at Union Rescue Mission.
Thank you again, Blessings
MEDIA ALERT – For Immediate Release
CONTACT: Kitty Davis-Walker
(213) 673-4585 or (213) 507-5562
UNION RESCUE MISSION TO SERVE THREE THOUSAND THIS SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21st
AT ANNUAL THANKSGIVING STREET FESTIVAL 2009
LOS ANGELES CALIF. (November 17, 2009) —– This Saturday November 21, 2009 Union Rescue Mission (URM), CEO Andy Bales will be joined by 300 volunteers at 11: 00 a.m. to transform San Pedro Street into a diners paradise. This year’s festival is sponsored by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch and will feature a delicious Thanksgiving meal, live entertainment, lots of give-a-ways and a Kids Zone that’s sure to be a big hit with children and those acting like children.
URM staff and volunteers will serve up plates of Cajun fried and Oven Roasted Turkey, stuffing with gravy, mash potato’s, green bean casserole, candied yams and much more to over 3,000 men, women and children experiencing homelessness on Skid Row this holiday season. Herbalife’s Smoothie mobile will also be on hand serving their signature smoothies.
Union Rescue Mission’s CEO Andy Bales said “We are honored to invite all of our friends experiencing homelessness over for this very special Thanksgiving dinner, made and served with love! We hope that it will be a life changing event and one that starts the journey home for many. Thanks to our community for providing the resources to make this possible!”
When: Saturday, November 21, 2009. 200 Turkeys will be deep fried on San Pedro St.
beginning @ 1:30 a.m.
Event Time: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Where: Union Rescue Mission
545 South San Pedro Street (between 5th & 6th on San Pedro)
Why: Union Rescue Mission along with major sponsor Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and
KJLH Radio Free will continue to bring people together as long as there is a need for
hope & healing.
Note: The visuals of 20 turkey fryers cooking 200 turkeys in the middle of the night (1:30 a.m.) for people experiencing homeless is a great photo & film opportunity. Also, the Kid Zone activities, rock climbing, bouncers, arts & crafts and interactive games.
About Union Rescue Mission
Union Rescue Mission is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the poor and homeless. Established in 1891, URM is one of the largest rescue missions of its kind in the United States and is the oldest in Los Angeles. It provides a comprehensive array of emergency and long-term services, including food, shelter, clothing; medical and dental care; Christian recovery programs, transitional housing, legal assistance, education, counseling and job training to needy men, women, children and families. For more information, please visit our website urm.org
Dodger’s outfielder Andre Ethier will be coming to Union Rescue Mission on Saturday, November 22 to help serve Thanksgiving meals to the homeless.
Ethier will then visit the Union Rescue Mission this Saturday, November 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in downtown Los Angeles. The Mission, located at 545 S. San Pedro St., will be a hosting “Thanksgiving in Whoville” event. Ethier will help serve Thanksgiving meals, hand out 1,000 blankets and sign autographs. This is Ethier’s second visit this year to Union Rescue mission. The outfielder kicked out his community initiative to help the homeless at Union Rescue mission in June.