Native Youth Who Care: Spirit Journey Youth of Northern Arizona
“What a mess!” exclaims a youth. He jumps out of the way as a plastic bag filled with clothes for the homeless spills out of the storage shed.
We empty out the rest of the garbage bags. These are all clothes donated for us to deliver to the homeless in the Holbrook/Winslow, Arizona area.
“Sort out jackets, sweaters, beanies, gloves, socks and long sleeve shirts. Put aside any clothes that are not warm,” I instruct the Native youth who volunteered to get our winter donations ready.
“Who would wear this?” asks a teen holding up an orange plaid vest.
“Someone who is cold,” answers another.
We fill each bag with one jacket, one sweater or long sleeve shirt, two pairs of new socks, one pair of gloves and one beanie. Thirty-two bags are packed although some are incomplete. We pin a note on the incomplete bags saying what is missing.
One of the young adults reads off the list. “We need twelve more jackets, four sweaters, twenty four pairs of gloves and thirteen beanies.” We have twelve extra shirts and a lot of sleeveless shirts.
“Didn’t some lady tell us to come back to Flagstaff if we need more clothes?” one of the youth reminds us.
“Yeah,” she says all of her friends buy new things for Christmas and we can have the old ones after that.”
“January is our coldest month,” comments one of the youth. “We can give away the ones that are complete at Christmas break and the rest after New Years when we pick up those other clothes.”
“We can also put two shirts in the bags that don’t have sweaters if we don’t get any more,” says one of the younger youth.
“I have an extra coat at home,” volunteers one of the youth. “We can pick it up at home.”
We pick up his coat. Then all the white plastic bags are put back in the storage place.
“Okay, we have been given Wal-Mart gift cards so let’s go to Winslow and see how many beanies and gloves we can buy,” I suggest.
We travel thirty miles to Flagstaff and look for bargains in beanies and gloves. We buy what we can but come up short for gloves.
“How do we get more gloves?” a young adult asks, “Do any of you have extra gloves at home?”
The youth come up with three more pairs of gloves.
“Let’s wait and see what happens after Christmas,” someone suggests.
“I still think we should teach them how to fish rather than handing our clothes,” grumbles one of the youth.
“Anyone have a response to that?” I ask.
“It is not up to us to judge why they are homeless,” says one of the young adults who has been in this discussion before. “That’s up to God. It’s up to us to keep them from freezing until something else can happen. I can’t get them a job, can you?”
“Why are we doing this anyway?” inquires a newcomer to the youth group.
“It’s a God thing. We are giving back to the community,” says one of the youth. “We were homeless for nine months when I was little and we lived in a broken down car. I’ll never forget how hungry and cold we were.”
We go to a fast food place where we have been given a gift card. We all choose carefully from the dollar menu. We pray for the homeless and I read this scripture for reflection.
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:17-19
We discuss our plans for Christmas. Some of us are going to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Williams, Ariz. to participate in the Christmas play. Others are going to an Advent retreat at our Church Camp. At our Christmas party we will receive gifts and Christmas cards from our Church family. All of us will hand out something to the homeless. We talk about Christmas being a time of mixed blessings. There will be some drama at home and some celebrations. We each will give and receive.
I ask everyone to complete a prayer for the homeless and us. I ask that they each begin with: “so that.” We go around the circle. “So that they get a job.” “So that they don’t die.” “So that we are thankful for what we have.” “So that we give back.” “So that they know we care.” “So that we don’t live in greed.” “So that God knows we appreciate all.” “So that we do something meaningful.”
The Spirit Journey Native Youth ends another day. We have prepared for the gift of God in our lives.
–Kaze Gadway works with the emerging leaders of the Native community in northern Arizona, youth of promise, ages 12 to 20.