Oh how I wish it was just one child who lived in poverty, or was addicted to drugs, or couldn't bear to go home to an abusive parent.
But sadly, our society - my own community - is filled with them.
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to join a local agency's special event to serve families in great need by providing free hygiene products, clothes, and social services-type assistance all under one roof. I brought my daughter along and we had a fun time fitting children with shoes and clothes. We did discover the joy that comes from helping people, but we also got a glimpse of a truly different world.
As I had been doing all day, I approached a child to slip off her shoe in order to find out her size (more often than not, the parents had no idea what size shoe their child wore). I held back a gasp as I turned to my daughter and told her to grab shoes off the rack that were a whole two sizes bigger. This little girl's feet were being squeezed into shoes much too small for her. I rubbed her squished little toes as we strapped on an adorable pair of white sandals. You would have thought I'd handed her a tiara the way she lit up. We also found some sneakers in her size and I told her to wear them home. I struggled to avoid taking the tiny shoes and hide them so they would never be forced on her feet again!
Shoes that fit. It's a simple thing. But a rarity amidst kids who are not even sure where they'll find their next meal.
So I went back today to this agency because I want to do more. I showed up for a prayer meeting where the director gave us her "top 10 list" of requests. Each story worse than the one before.
A teen desperate for acceptance, only to be dragged down by despicable insults and lies on social media.
A 14-year-old girl gone missing, possibly out on the streets or shacked up with a much older man.
A drug addict finding ways to abuse even as she's in a treatment center...and pushing her "secret" on others fighting to stay sober.
Two kids under age 10 missing since their mother was taken away by the authorities a few days ago.
These kids are fighting for survival while mine fight for the last bowl of sugary cereal. The contrast is gut-wrenching.
I was told a story of a young girl who came to a club meeting, and while stringing colored beads onto a string, she said, "Black, blue, black, blue...that's the color of my Mommy." ...and then blushed as she realized what she just admitted out loud for all to hear.
I cannot meet these people or hear these stories and just hope they get their lives on track someday. Sure, I could plop back into life as usual and just be thankful for what I have. But that's like walking away from the scene of a tragic accident hoping everybody gets out okay.
So I'm going to dive in again later this week and do what I can to give kids the chance to...
...and know hope.
Because every child should know these things.
It shouldn't have taken a tiny shoe to remind me of it.