What are you getting me for Christmas? (Charity vs. Community)

On Friday nights, we have three outreaches simultaneously happening in Newark, NJ.
Newark is rough, and we go to three of the roughest, drug riddled, and broken areas. Places no one would want to go, especially at night. It is for this reason, we choose to go, because no one else does.

It is on these tough streets of Newark where I have found some of my favorite places of community. In Newark is also where I met Richard. I’ve known Richard for a long while, he is one of the first people I met and got to know in Newark when I first started working with New York City Relief two years ago. He meets us at the spot outside of Newark’s Penn Station every week, without fail. Richard was part of the group that came to my apartment for Thanksgiving last year. He is the one that I gave both my backpack and my coat to, and he is the one that texts me at least twice a week to see how my family and I are doing and to see if I will be the outreach leader at the Penn Station spot that week. Richard is also homeless.

A couple of weeks ago, Richard send me a text that read,

“What are you getting me for Christmas?”

I didn’t know how to respond. Kind of presumptuous I thought, but I stopped and waited to reply.

When I tell people what I do or they are making a comment to me about seeing my posts, I hear a lot of, “oh, that must feel good” or  “that must be very rewarding’. But until now I haven’t really known how to respond. Do I love what I get to do? Yes! I absolutely love it. It fulfills my passions and gifts and helps me see the world and the people in it in a whole new way. But, many of the questions come from the place of assuming that what I do or give is charity. By definition, charity it: the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.
So, if you are picturing what I do as charity, then, the above questions might make sense.

Instead, I want to challenge you to look at it from a different place. Rather than think of what I say and do as a charitable act, would you look at it as building community.
Community by definition is, a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

What I, and we as an organization, do is build community. We go to the same place, at the same time, every week, all year round, no matter what. If it rains, we go. If all of our volunteers cancel, we go. We don’t go because people need our charity, but more so, people need community. Just think about it for a second. We don’t just hand out food, we create an atmosphere of community. We bring tables and chairs to encourage conversation, through conversation relationships start or are strengthened.

Through the different communities we have our lives, we are molded into who we are and who we are going to be. Be it work, family, church, clubs, ect. All are different forms of communities that are giving us “fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals - community!”

Think about your tightest community. It can be currently or in the past. Did you have such a great relationship with those people that you would liken them to to family? I sure have.

My greatest example of community in my life has to be my family. My relationship with my mom, dad, and brother, was my first example of what community is - common attitudes, interests, and goals (not the same, but we had sure ones in common).

If my family were to text me and say, “What are you getting me for Christmas?”, I wouldn’t think a thing of it - they are my family. I expect that they are going to get me something for Christmas, or my Birthday, or just because. They love me, they want to show me how much they love me by this sacrificial act. And I, in the same way, want to do so for them. So then, why would I or should I, think any differently when asked this same exact question by my friend Richard?

Richard got it, he got it, before I even realized it.
We are friends - and even beyond that - we are in community!

So, what am I getting Richard for Christmas? He LOVES movies, so I am going to get him a gift certificate for the movie theatre in town so he can enjoy some movies and also I’m going to get him some hand warmers to help keep his hands warm in the upcoming cold months.

Thank you all for being in my community.

To those of you who spend your time, your precious time praying for me or sending me little notes of encouragement. Thank you!

To those of you who financially support me and my family so I can do this, thank you for your love and for showing me how much you love me by this sacrificial act of your hard earned money. I am forever grateful.

To everyone who reads these street stories, like, comments, and shares them. Thank you!

Merry Christmas to you all!