Homeless Agnes by Patty LaRoche

Last week I wrote about working in the kitchen at a homeless shelter. Please allow me to introduce you to “Agnes,” the one responsible for me volunteering. Almost daily, as I walked in the direction of the Jacksonville, Florida, ballpark, I found her reclining on a park bench or pilfering through trash. She, a homeless lady, sported no bags or shopping cart (like most who live on the streets) and always had on the same dirty, torn, ill-fitting pants and top. The first time I passed her, she was asleep, her head supported on the curved metal armrest with not even a piece of clothing to soften her “pillow.” It appeared painful.

When she is awake, we speak. To my “How are you doing?” she responds, “I am fine, thank you.” A pleasant lady. In the beginning, I would move on. After all, three blocks away is a homeless shelter which feeds, clothes and sleeps “those” people.

A few weeks ago, Marti and Elaine, two Fort Scott friends, came to visit. After dining out, we left with two large portions of pasta which we decided to share with the homeless people in my area. My first stop was Agnes, the bench lady. I pulled over to the curb. This was our conversation:

Good evening. Would you like some food?” I began.

It will break my teeth.”

Oh, no, it’s pasta. It’s soft.”

I can’t because my teeth will break.”
“It’s like spaghetti, only in the shape of bow ties.” (No idea why I added this tidbit.)

I don’t want it. It will break my teeth.”

Are you sure? It’s really good, and it’s really soft.”

I’m supposed to be at Burger King.” (This was not working out the way I intended.) Telling her good-bye, I ended with “God bless you.” She repeated the phrase.

My next stop was an elderly, frail lady walking down the street. “Would you like some food? It’s pasta and it’s really good.”

I would like juice. Do you have juice?”

No, no juice. Just food.”
“Thank you, but I’m not hungry. I just want juice.”

And I would give you that, if I were a drive-by cantina, I say to myself, wondering how many more of “those” will reject my offering.

Then it dawned on me. I was lumping all “those” homeless men and women into a single category: people who don’t turn down handouts. Jesus never would see them that way. He would view each of them as individuals with distinct likes and desires and issues. How dare I categorize “those people” because they live on the streets!

On a walk yesterday, my husband and I encountered several homeless people. Some were sleeping. Many were slumped on curbs. Most looked sad. I told Dave that I would love to bring them back to our condo and offer them a shower and a meal. He said they might kill me. (He always says that.) The sad thing is, he’s right. And that’s the problem. How do I know which are mentally challenged? Addicts? Sociopaths? Perhaps they are just individuals choosing to reject societal standards or are there through no fault of their own. (The movie The Pursuit of Happyness was proof of that.) Stereotyping them is much easier than figuring this out.

Continuing my food drive, within one block I found two wheelchair-bound men who were thrilled to accept the pasta. I expected to feel better about myself.

I didn’t. That was, however, my turning point…which is what led me to volunteering at the homeless shelter…which is where I met Misty…which is where I realized, I really am one of “those” people.

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