Taking Christmas to the Streets

As I type this, I’m at work with a belly full of BBQ – we just had our “Holiday Party.”  I work for a hospital in Tampa, but at a corporate center in downtown Tampa which houses IT and Finance, so we get our own party for our location.

Since we’re in Florida, our party is out in the parking lot, under a big tent.  There’s music, and games of corn-hole (I really don’t know why we can’t call it “beanbag toss” or anything else that doesn’t involve the word “cornhole”) and 4’ tall Jenga, and a couple of other things.  Our leadership bought a stack of gift cards to stores and restaurants that get raffled off – one ticket for free, additional tickets for a donation to the IT employee group.  So there are prizes.

And the best part, a local BBQ vendor brings their BBQ trailer, and they smoke a whole pile of ribs and chicken in our parking lot, and make the entire neighborhood smell like hickory and pork for the whole day.  We get salad, and mac’n cheese, and mashed potatoes, and cornbread, and ribs, and chicken, and drinks.  It’s great.

Unless you’re one of the guys who sit under the awning of the empty travel agency building just outside our fenced parking lot.  I drive past those guys every evening as I leave work. Those guys get to smell BBQ starting just after dawn, and hear the couple-hundred of us having fun.  It seems cruel.

I’ll admit, I’m not used to seeing homeless people.  I moved here from Michigan over three years ago, and I’m still just not used to it.  Northern Michigan doesn’t see much of that – it’s cold most of the year, and people are either stingy tourists, or broke locals.  There’s a saying about this kind of thing, though:  “If you’re going to starve, at least starve warm.”  Tampa’s warm.

They passed a “six days per week” ban on panhandling a couple of years ago, so except for Sundays I only see occasional guys out on the street with signs.  If you look, though, you can see the homeless people everywhere…just not asking for money.  When I first moved to Tampa there were homeless folks panhandling on every corner.  On.  Every.  Corner.  If I’d have given a dollar to every one of them that I saw, I’d have been out $100 or more after a single drive across town.  It really bothered me, and it still really does.

So a couple of weeks ago I asked one of the guys in our employee group (kinda like student government, but at work) who was organizing the party if we should maybe take some full plates over to those guys.  He thought it was “legit, and a very good idea.”

There were two guys today – some days it’s none, some days it’s six –  so the guy from our employee group and I filled a couple of to-go boxes full of all the food, and a plastic silverware-napkin-salt/pepper packet, and a handful of wetwipes and we carried it over to them.  One of the guys had obviously been drinking, a lot, and was polite but kind of out of it.  We explained what we were doing, and wished them Merry Christmas, and we talked for a few minutes about sports and Florida transplants.  Well, the guy with me did, as he’s one of those super-outgoing people…and I’m super-not.  In the end, they were very appreciative, and the guy who could stand hugged us.

I know I spurred a good thing to happen today.  So why do I feel like crying?

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