A cold, wet spell that December left my three boys with a bad case of cabin fever. Me too. At the first hint of sun we put on boots and parkas and headed to the park.
The boys tromped through soggy leaves, splashed in puddles. But at the playground they stopped, staring at a group of homeless men by the picnic tables. The men had put up a sheet of plastic like a tarp to keep themselves and their meager possessions dry. They hugged themselves to get warm.
“Who are those people, Mommy?” asked my oldest, Mike, age eight.
“Where do they go at night?” Kevin, six, wondered. “Do they have houses?”
“What are they going to do for Christmas?” Nick, only four, wanted to know.
I didn’t have answers. We live in an affluent neighborhood and didn’t usually see homeless people. My sons’ compassion touched me. This was the season of giving. Perhaps we could do something for these men. “Let’s bring Christmas to them,” I suggested.
That week we tromped through Ralph’s and Costco, buying socks, scarves, hand warmers, soap, shampoo, apples, granola bars, bottled water, lotion. The boys made cards. At the last minute I added a few Bibles.
We wrapped everything up in paper and ribbon. Friday evening we piled into our van and my husband, Terry, took us back to the park.
The men were still there by the picnic tables, huddled beneath their makeshift awning. The boys jumped out of the van. “Merry Christmas!” they said, handing out the presents. I could see their breath in the chilly air. The men looked stunned.
“Thank you,” one of them said. “Merry Christmas to you too.” Another added, “God bless you boys.”
It could have ended there. But our eyes had been opened. The boys kept spotting others who needed help: a woman on a street corner holding out a cup for donations, a man in a sleeping bag by the soccer field, a group warming themselves at one of the park’s fire pits.
We knew we had to do something beyond the holidays.
It reminded me of a Scripture my mom used to quote—she read her Bible and Daily Guideposts every morning— urging my siblings and me to look out for others: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (I John 3:17). Now here were my kids, bringing that lesson to life.
The boys and I put together care packages (in backpacks, much more practical than gift-wrapped boxes!) and took them in the van to hand out. I made sure to include something inspiring to read: a pamphlet, a magazine, a pocket version of the Psalms or New Testament.
Word got out and people gave us donations. Our house became a staging area. One year someone called and asked if I would accept 3,000 blankets. Would I ever! But I had no idea how much room 3,000 blankets could take up. Soon every corner was filled.
By then we had officially registered as a nonprofit organization. What we needed was more space. I was praying for an answer when I got a call out of the blue from a friend of a friend. “I’ve got a warehouse that’s empty. I’d like to donate the space, if you could you use it.” We sure could!
Today our work is done by hundreds of volunteers. The boys are in their twenties now, but they still help out. We assemble thousands of backpacks, called CarePacks, filled with basics—something to eat and drink, toiletries, blankets—and distribute them yearround on the street and at missions and homeless shelters.
Now, with your support, we include Guideposts booklets, and soon we’ll be adding Guideposts magazines. Food for both body and soul…Mom would have really liked that.
Mom’s name was Mildred Hope, so when we had to register our group, we called it Hope Mill in her honor. It was only fitting to name it after her, because it all started when her three grandchildren saw a need and cared enough to fill it.
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