Why I Volunteer
Category : Blog
August 20, 2015
By Marissa Weselak, Jericho Road Dallas volunteer
One June day not long ago I had the best seat in downtown Chicago. I was on a business trip turned weekend getaway, and this restaurant on Michigan Avenue had a great view. To me, soaking up the atmosphere was just part of the Chicago experience and I wanted to spend every moment of the weekend staring up at skyscrapers and reminding myself of where I was.
I hadn’t eaten most of the day and soon had ordered $20 worth of sushi and chicken dishes. I was very aware of the beauty of the city around me as I ordered, but it was only when the hubbub died down that I finally noticed what was directly in front of me: a homeless man, sitting in a wheelchair, holding a cardboard sign and jingling coins in a cup. My chair faced him square on, and I didn’t know what to do. The couple at the table next to mine seemed oblivious to the situation and I didn’t have any other examples to follow. Was I really supposed to eat a full meal right in front of a homeless man? While he sat and begged for coins, I would stuff myself on anything I wanted, and he would watch me. The obvious internal debate ensued: do I give him money? Do I order something and bring it to him? Do I go over and ask what he would like to eat, then order it for him? These last options would give me control over my donation, but how would the restaurant employees feel about this? Would I inadvertently divert business from their establishment by encouraging members of the homeless population to congregate around their restaurant? Had this man purposely positioned himself to put tourists in this very predicament?
In the end, it started to rain and I went inside before my food arrived. When I came back out the man was gone, an elderly woman in his place. Over the next few days the city revealed an extensive homeless population- people curled up in doorways, buried under blankets and coats despite the summer heat; passive sitters with signs explaining their situation; more desperate or possibly unstable individuals who would approach passersby: “would you like to help the homeless today?!” When it rained one man on crutches wrapped a plastic CVS bag on his head to stay dry.
The experience taught me one thing: “we have to do better.” In a country like ours, there is no reason we cannot. Pitching coins to these people was not the answer- we need to eliminate the causes of their situation, rather than treat its symptoms. I don’t know exactly how to fix it, but I’ll start with volunteering.