Linda’s Story. She is 50 years old.
Life was moving all around me, but I was standing still. My youngest was off for college, my husband had his job, and I was sitting, still recovering from an injury that had happened years before. I was tired of it. What was next for me? I knew I needed to be careful about what and how much I took on so I did the only thing I could think of. I prayed. I prayed that God would use me in a way that when people looked at me they didn’t see me, but saw God within me. I wanted to minister to people. I wanted to love on people. I just didn’t know how to do it.
After numerous random circumstances that can only be described as God ordained I found myself on a tour of a local shelter. The part of the tour that stuck out to me the most was the thrift store owned by the shelter. Anyone can come and buy things that they like, but there is another purpose to the store. People graduating from the shelter programs are able to get a voucher for the store so they can furnish their new homes. A lot of these people came to the shelter after living on the streets and they have nothing with which to furnish a home when they get one. I asked if they needed volunteers for the store and they did. It was quickly obvious to me that this is where I was supposed to be.
I am now there almost every day the doors are open. Often people who come in with vouchers to furnish their new homes are overwhelmed by the amount of things to choose from. After all many were recently living for months or years with just the clothes on their backs and the volume of things in one place makes some think about leaving, but I talk to them and walk them through the store section by section to help them get what they need. I make sure they know that there is no judgment in this place for them, only acceptance. I tell them that we are here for them after they have finished with the voucher and that if they need anything to come back to see us.
I have also found ways to reach out to those in the neighborhoods surrounding our store. We have many customers who come in at least once a week just to have someone to talk to. I make sure they know that they don’t have to buy anything and sit down to chat with them. One gentleman that I will never forget had recently lost his wife. He just needed someone to be there and we were able to be that place for him to go when the loneliness was just too much. We were blessed by many generous donations this winter and were able to donate books, hats, scarves, and gloves to schools in the surrounding neighborhoods. These schools are often underfunded and we wanted to be able to show these children they are not forgotten.
Working at the thrift store has been a stretching experience. There are times when a customer becomes upset and says things that are hurtful, but I keep a Bible handy in the back and go there to read and remember why I am serving. It doesn’t take too long for my joy to return. I head back out to the floor and continue serving and learning from this wonderful group of people. The good far outweighs the bad. I am still humbled that God has allowed me to serve in this way and continue to pray that those who walk through our doors don’t see me, but see God greeting them.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Lutheran Social Services and the Office of the Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.