This the second day my kids’ school was cancelled because it is -25º with the windchill here in Illinois. It hurts to go outside. Houses and cars are frozen and refusing to work. We’ve all got cabin fever. I need groceries. The washing machine broke. Not super smiley today.
Whenever something feels too intense (i.e. I hate it), I’m trying to get perspective and consider what Compassion could look like in it. It’s a mental and spiritual discipline that gently erodes my entitlement and ungratefulness.
As you deal with extreme weather you could consider these compassionate responses:
1. Cold & Homeless: The average age of a homeless person in DuPage County (my affluent county) is EIGHT years old. Most of the homeless here are together in families, not the toothless, mentally unstable, unshaven loners many of us think of. They are staying in crowded shelters and/or living in their cars during this extreme weather. Some families are homeless because it is better to be homeless that to stay with their abusive spouse/provider. Think about that. We love what DuPage Pads does to provide comprehensive solutions. Here is a list of what they need: DuPage Pads Needed Items.
Chicago is a half hour away. “An August 2014 analysis by CCH estimates that 138,575 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of the 2013-14 school year.” The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has a lot of information on how to help people out of poverty. This website provides a directory of dozens of shelters in the city that could use your help.
If you are not local, and homelessness has your attention you could google “homelessness” and then your town’s name or your county’s name. Look for items to donate, times to volunteer, or call and ask what the biggest needs are in this season.
2. Cold at School: Our public schools are safe havens for many, many children. They are required to provide an education for everyone. Everyone. I have learned so much about grace and hospitality from our public school, 9 doors down. Last year during the Polar Vortex we learned that our school had 9 homeless children and more than 45 refugee children. Many of these kids were walking to school in -5º weather with no socks or underwear, no boots or mittens. We sent an email out to lots families and together got enough boots, hats, mittens, socks and underwear for all of them.
Prior to an accidental encounter with my school’s social worker, I wouldn’t have known. I wouldn’t have thought to ask. I’ve asked around since then I found that every school works differently.
In our community homeless and refugee children are divided among all the public schools. Our compassionate social workers, nurses, and teachers often bridge the gap for these students on their own, buying them school supplies, clothes, glasses and coats. In some schools the social worker is the primary contact. In others it’s the school nurse. At our school we can now opt in to an email list to be informed of the greatest needs. The last one was for dress up clothes for our all-school Winter Concert.
Here is a sobering statistic about Chicago public schools: “CPS identified a record 22,144 homeless students in the 2013-14 school year, a year’s increase of 18.6%… Homeless students included 2,647 unaccompanied youth, teens who were homeless and living without parent or guardian.” I try to imagine if almost half of my town (Wheaton, Illinois, population 53,648) were homeless. Or if the entire student body of my college (Wheaton College enrollment 2,444) were homeless and without a parent or guardian.
I am deeply affected by this statement on the DuPage [my county] Regional Office of Education’s website: “The role of education in the life of a homeless child is crucial. In a life that is filled with uncertainty, school is a place of safety. Something as simple as a desk to call her own can provide a homeless child with a sense of routine and ownership. A free, appropriate, public education is also a right to which homeless children and youth are legally entitled. This right put into practice has the potential to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness that may otherwise continue. For a homeless child, the importance of a stable, quality education is immeasurable.”
If you feel prompted to help vulnerable kids in your community, contact the front office of your closest public school (it doesn’t matter if you don’t have kids there). They will connect you with the social worker or nurse. Ask what the greatest needs are for vulnerable kids and if you could do anything to help.
[In my experience there is always a need for 1. Kids underwear 2. Kids socks 3. Winter gear. There is always a desire for 1. Fresh fruit 2. School supplies 3. Shelf stable foods like granola bars and mac & cheese to give to families 4. Hygiene kits for adolescent girls.]
3. Cold & Running for Your Life: I just learned that it is really cold in the Middle East. Schools are closed in Amman, Jordan because it is snowing. Did you know that? I didn’t. This doesn’t fit with the desert images of sand dunes, camels, and fig trees I had.
I now care about what’s happening in the Middle East because this summer my family was rocked hearing about the atrocities the extremist terrorist group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria) were/are committing across Syria. Every day there was news of beheadings, executions, and destroyed buildings. People are running for their lives to get away. Refugees. “The United Nations estimates that militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have forced nearly 180,000 families — or more than a million people — from their homes in Iraq.”
Now it’s winter and these refugees, people who fled from danger and death in their home country, are living in tents in freezing winter. Here is a New York Times article from this morning: “Weather Makes a Bad Situation Worse for Syrian Refugees.” Please read the article and look at the pictures focusing on the winter refugee crisis in Lebanon.
More than 1,000,000 refugees are living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. It is the fifth largest city in Jordan now and the second largest refugee camp in the world. If you want to see what it looked like in the summer, click on this article: “This Enormous Syrian Refugee Camp is Now Jordan’s Fifth Largest City.” (I think the population has risen so it is now the fourth largest city.)
Can you imagine the heartbreak, loss, and crime that must be happening here? Hundreds of thousands of people driven from their homes with nothing, trying to survive, scrape out life, with no certainty of a future home? The physical, financial, educational needs are vast.
I’ve mentioned how much I love the Humans of New York site before. The photographer, Brandon, visited Zaatari this summer and posted this on Facebook last summer. I still think about it:
Many, many organizations are responding to the great needs in the Zaatari Camp. If you and your family would like to respond to the need for stoves, blankets, clothing this winter click on an organization’s name to be linked to their sites: These include Samaritans Purse, Mercy Corps, International Relief & Development, and UNHCR.
*** Update 1/24/15 from our friend working with refugees in Jordan – The best place to send refugee relief this winter is through Operation Mobilization. World Vision, Voice of the Martyrs and Save the Children are providing necessary care. Our friend also saw a warehouse full of TOMS shoes for the spring!***
I’m shivering as I type this, even though I’m in a sturdy house with the heat set high. My pantry is full and my slippers are furry. When I’m moved to complain this winter I hope I will continue to look for opportunities to be compassionate instead. Asking questions, looking for answers, praying through heartache, and serving in love.
Amanda Colville – 3 Winter Birds – Mangle Print – 2011
You are loved.
To learn more about doing Compassion as a family, click here.
© Aimee Fritz and Family Compassion Focus, 2014-2015