A couple of months ago, while I was visiting my mom, her next door neighbor, Marceil Lauppe, popped by for a few moments. Marceil and her husband, George, have been our family's friends and neighbors since we moved to Lawrence in 1975. Marceil mentioned that the Community Drop-In Center had a couple vacancies on the board and invited me to attend the next board meeting.
When I showed up at the November board meeting, I was welcomed with open arms and invited to join the board if I thought I could contribute. I hesitated to join right away because I wasn't sure how I could contribute, so I stayed to listen and learn. I observed an amazingly generous and hardworking group talk about the success of the recent fund-raising effort called Chocolate & Tea, plans for future fund raising, grant proposal ideas, thoughts about increasing community involvement, and several recent success stories about CDIC guests.
Needless to say, by the end of the board meeting that night, I was the newest member of the CDIC board of directors. I jumped in right away, offering to be "in charge" during the Friday after Thanksgiving so that regular staff could have a bit of a holiday with friends and family.
I had never visited the center during open hours (8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, year around), so I figured I should do a "dry run" before being left on my own at the center. I had a day off of work the Monday before Thanksgiving, so I showed up to see how things ran and learn policies and procedures.
Tami Clark, the director, was pleased to have me visit, and effortlessly answered my never-ending stream of questions while simultaneously helping guests with a myriad of requests and questions. I also met Mary, a volunteer on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and she helped me figure out where important paperwork and keys were kept. But most importantly, I got to spend a little time getting to know some of the guests of the Center.
The hardest part for me was helping some of the guests with their Christmas wish lists. Guests could list a couple of items ($20 or less) that they would like to receive for Christmas. Their requests just broke my heart. Most people who have never been homeless or near poverty would groan if they received socks as a holiday present, but I counted at least a dozen CDIC guests who nearly begged for socks or warm gloves or winter coats -- things I take for granted.
One guest wished for something chocolate and someone to talk to and spend time with over the holidays. Another guest wanted a tape or CD of Christmas music (especially the song, "The Little Drummer Boy") and a Walkman to keep him company when he's alone on the streets. A group of guests wanted some stuff to help repair their tents (tents that are their homes, not just used for camping on warm summer weekend trips). But despite their heart-wrenching requests, I found that every one of the guests I spent time with had a smile for me and spoke in positive and hopeful terms.
The CDIC can always use donations such as: blankets, socks, coats and other things to keep someone warm on a cold winter night; resume paper, pens, journals and bus passes to help find and maintain jobs; personal hygiene items like soap, shampoo, feminine products and laundry supplies; and items to help set up a new home (dishes, glasses, pans and utensils) for someone who just found housing. Other helpful items include batteries, backpacks and sleeping bags.
I left the center that Monday afternoon with warmth and hope in my heart and an early reminder that Christmas and all of the upcoming holidays are not about the loot that Santa brings and which stores have the best sales but that it's about helping others and spreading joy and charity and good will and all those other sentiments that are usually only mentioned in Hallmark Cards. I can't wait to return to the center.
Anne M. Bracker is Lawrence resident and local business owner.