I always feel conspicuous when I do something like this. Driving down the well worn, depressed streets of Buffalo in my happy little Candy Blue car, wearing my Michael Kors parka and listening to Taylor Swift. Just add Ugg boots and a Starbucks’Pumpkin Spice Latte and I am the Ultimate Basic White Girl.
But my heart was in the right place, despite my uber-sterile style.
A few weeks earlier, I had read an article in the the Buffalo News about Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz and the Response to Love Center. The center serves its neighboring residents with a food pantry, hot meals, clothing, GED and ESL programs, as well as spiritual ministry and much, much more. But the focus of the article was their shortage of diapers.
Nearly 30% of parents in the United States cannot afford diapers, which can cost up to $100 every month per baby. And it is an expense not covered by food stamps.
After reading the article, it seemed simple enough:
Put a call out to my local friends on Facebook and collect some diapers. Drop them off. The end.
Except yesterday, when I dropped them off, it wasn’t really the end. As I cautiously pulled around to the side of the building and unloaded the haul with a volunteer from the center (who knowingly reminded me to lock my car doors), he asked if I would please come in and speak with Sister Johnice, “because she’ll want to thank you in person.”
I can’t explain it, but I felt myself getting choked up and at first I said no.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll just drop these off and be on my way.”
But he insisted she would want to thank whoever had brought the diapers.
And the whole thing was starting to give me big feelings.
For a few years now I have felt an unrelenting pull on my heart to be more involved in some sort of social justice or humanitarian work; To be involved in something bigger than myself, outside my usual comfortable little circle.
You can’t keep reading books and journaling and crying in your bed over the needs and brokenness of humanity but never actually get out of your bed and do anything about it. You just can’t.
I mean, you can. But it doesn’t make sense. And I think sometimes we just get so paralyzed by our fears or inadequacies or by not knowing quite WHAT to do or how to do it.
And then we do nothing.
But a diaper drive? A diaper drive seemed like such a simple place to start. Babies in my city need diapers. I can buy diapers and I can ask my friends if they want to buy diapers. And then I can bring them to the Response to Love Center.
I sat in Sister Johnice’s office with a life-size cardboard cut out of Pope Francis behind her, fighting back tears as she started to share with me detailed ways the center helps struggling families.
I can’t lie– I also sat there fighting back the urge to ask if I could take a selfie with her and the Pope. Self-restraint and social dignity won this time. But when I’m there next time, I’m going for it. I figure why else would there BE a LIFE SIZE POPE FRANCIS, if not for the selfie op?
I listened to story after story of the way Response to Love Center changes lives every single day and I started feeling like maybe I had found my place. I confessed to her that I had been wanting to make a more thoughtful and examined contribution somewhere, somehow. I told her how I keep wrestling with so many different ideas and plans– because there is so much need EVERYWHERE. In fact, I was just about to get involved in a Livestock program to purchase goats for poor families in other countries for Christmas.
But here I was, sitting in an outreach center in my own city. My own city that has hungry, needy people. My own city that has babies who need diapers. My own city with tired, scared, insecure mamas and daddies trying to figure it all out.
Sister recounted her meeting with Mother Teresa in 1985. Mother Teresa held her hands, looked her in the eyes and charged her with these words: “You must find your own Calcutta.”
Find. Your. Own. Calcutta.
And I feel like maybe I just did. And so I’m telling you friends. I don’t have an answer to the refugee crisis facing our world. I don’t have an answer for WORLD hunger or human sex-trafficking. But there are hungry people in my city and babies who need diapers, and that’s where I’m going to start.