“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.