Small investment pays off big

The most thoughtful gesture I witnessed in the past week involved a small bar of soap and a travel size tube of toothpaste.

Driving to the airport tends to bring a familiar landscape – brake lights ahead of me, billboards to the side, and someone who needs help standing on a street corner. Last week what happened to the last one changed my perception of how to help others.

As the light off the highway exit turned red, I slowed to a stop. From a half-dozen spots from the front I noticed a woman with a handwritten cardboard sign walking up to cars. Some windows opened and an arm extended with a paper dollar or two. But from the third car came something unusual – a clear zip lock bag filled with toiletries. The woman grasped the bag closely to her chest and leaned towards the car offering heartfelt thanks.

The light ahead changed – but so did my understanding of how to help others. As I entered the intersection I discovered myself telling myself to remember sometimes a few dollar bills can be less meaningful than a bag of travel-sized thoughtfully packed for someone in need.

We are all human – and we all have our pride. For some though, a detour can take them to place where they not only recognize their surroundings, but the face in the mirror.

There is a dynamic local church that tries to remember this as well. Every few months they gather up hair stylists who volunteer their time to cut the hair of those in need. The result is remarkable – transforming or returning many to the person they know they are inside.

And for someone living beneath a concrete underpass, a bar of soap or toothpaste can do the same.

A friend of mine invited me to join him and he and friends took socks to those living outside. A staple most of us take for granted is actually one of the more valuable items to those living without a roof over their heads. And as anyone knows, wet or cold feet are difficult to ignore.

Which brings me back to the incredibly thoughtful person in car number three from the light. Somewhere along the line they learned there was something they could do beyond pulling out a few paper dollars from their billfold. Could be their paths once crossed with someone who tipped them off. Or it could be they read an insightful article. Or it could be they were once on the other side of the widow.

From my vantage point in car number six I will never know. But what I do know is the powerful emotional response the plastic bag filled with toiletries brought from the woman in need.

Next time I find myself standing in front of the travel-size toiletries at the store, I think I will double up. After all, if doing so can so easily help someone recapture the person hidden in plain view, it could be the best investment I ever make.

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