My precious Maggie Lee,
Your 24th birthday is next Thursday and it is still an outlandish thought that you are in Heaven and not here with us. Time marches on and even the movie Legally Blonde turned twenty this year! Speaking of which, Elle Woods Henson was particularly excited by her prominent placement in this year’s T-shirt graphic. She’s so extra, just like her mommy.
It is always so amazing to see the kindness people perform in your name by many who knew you and even more who never did. I cannot wait to see you again and watch you watch the video roll of all of the good deeds your spirit inspired in people. Who knows but that the box of groceries in Detroit or the simple hand-written note in Phoenix was just the touch God used to restore someone’s broken soul. As you know, kindness is not wimpy and sentimental but rather a force both fierce and transformative.
What began as a simple seed to carry on your legacy of love has grown and next Thursday photos will pour in from different parts of the country where your spirit has spread. Four West Point Grads are having a golf scramble in Las Vegas to raise money for Wounded Warriors, crossing guards in Frisco are being assaulted with showers of Little Debbie’s and children in Jackson, MS are being treated at Batson Hospital because of donations someone made in your name. How wonderful is that?
Amid the celebration, however, there will always be an empty seat at our table. Time forever demarcated before 2009 and after. I suppose this is the frightening risk of loving a soul; the possibility that one day it will be gone. Our insides swell at the thought of love, enlarged by the fulfilled presence of another, but desperately deflated should it be taken away. How miraculous to feel the flat disappointment of grief eventually give way to the infilling of God’s grace? Life can almost kill us and then we least expect, catch it being beautiful once more.
I treasure what we had in you, Maggie Lee. Your sparkle remains like glitter found in the baseboards of an old house years after the craft project has wrapped. Your essence is both impossible to remove and ever present. You will always be the undercurrent in my soul when I react out of love and patience when I have the choice to be selfish. You will always be my inspiration to pull up a chair at the lunch table to make room for one more. You will always be one-half of the best things I ever did in my life on Earth and I cannot wait to celebrate you next week!!!
To join the world wide wave of kindness on October 29, simply go to fb group
Maggie Lee for Good
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
#maggieleeforgood #onedayonedeedonedifference #godsgrace #kindnessmatters #grief #daughter #hope #brokenhearted #mourningintodancing #butgod #parenting #parentingtoday #dylandreyer #grievingparents #love #lifelessons #god #help #why? #encouragement #overcoming #thebestisyettobe #motherslove #busaccident #seatbelts
STILL ON A KHAKI HIGH
Over 200 North West Louisiana K-8th graders received school uniforms, a fresh haircut, string pack, book, shiny nails and community services for free at MLC’s Khaki Fair August 4th.
Since the air conditioning units failed the day before, we kicked it box fan and body odor style this year. We may have all sweat like a Ryan Lochte at the Rio de Janiero Police Station but the little people who brought their best manners and grateful parents made me wish I had a billion dollars to buy everyone in the world a uniform.
THIS IS HOW WE ROLL
Clients entered the registration / air conditioned chapel and were seated in rows of ten (the system developed for The Highland Blessing Dinner on Thursday Nights.) After watching the Baby Ella video highlighting the importance of loving words to infant brain development, folks walked to the toasty gym and their children received a uniform in a nifty string pack. This year, The Doctor’s Travis Stork donated those packs to our families.
LEAN ON ME
After uniforms, just to the left of shorty-pants alley was resource row: our blessed community partners including SPAR, Early Steps, Head Start, Early Head Start, Step Forward and Ocean Dental. The back wall was lined with a book give away sponsored by Church for The Highlands which led to a reading wonderland. The Bossier Library showed up hot but happy as kids crashed on the air couches surrounding the magical Tee Pee of Happiness.
YOU’RE SO FANCY
The final leg of Khaki Fair was the favorite of most of our kids. Two stylists and a barber cranked out some fun and fabulous back to school hair. For our girls who did not opt for a trim there was the Super Nail A Team who polished with precision. Super Nail. Upon exit the little people received a drink and a snack and one more admonition to have a great year.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Khaki Fest / Fair is typically around August 2nd, the anniversary of Maggie Lee’s passing. The busier my hands are the happier my heart is at the beginning of this month. The real truth is that all of the Maggie Lee for Good activities for me are nothing short of a Heavenly collaboration. I am inspired by who she was and still is even if she does have a different address.
If being Right is Wrong…I still want to be right
I know what my faults are. I do not feign perfection. I am well aware of what lies in my own soul. In our congregation we have addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes and even a Junior Leaguer. We are all sinners saved by grace. If that grace covers someone like me then of course it covers everyone else as well. But even I have blind spots. Occasionally, like the father of all chin hairs accidently discovered while driving, I am surprised by a glimpse of something ugly in me. That I never saw before. Prior to my launch into my latest furry discovery, here’s a look at a few of my vintage flaws:
1) I lack that part of a human brain which knows how to fold a fitted sheet…or anything else that may come out of the dryer
If I am folding three t-shirts I will fold them three different ways. May even roll one up in a wad if the mood strikes. I never did puzzles as a child. I do remember stapling black pieces of paper together the length of my body and tracing myself with a white crayon: a life-sized Jinny crime scene at four. I did have Lincoln Logs…which I taped together. Not a linear thinker.
2) I suffer from extreme multi-tasking over confidence
The gap between what I think I can accomplish and what I can realistically accomplish is a pretty profound. I no longer try to cook and change diapers but I do wand on mascara en route to work, a holdover from my hour commute to Baylor Medical Center. Right this second Evangeline has a hi-temp glue gun welded to her back seat carpet, remains of a mobile salad-consumption-attempt and red light faux-nail application fails. I have memorized comedy bits, frosted cupcakes and refereed a Chihuahua death match all in my sedan which makes me I think that I can do it all.
We moved into our old new home in December. I promptly re-tiled the fireplace in a beautiful limestone. I grouted it 3 weeks later and now, nearly March, the wire brush sits plopped in front of the project. It is as if I am signaling to any unfortunate visitor, “The smeared-toothpaste grout patina will one day be removed by the handy wire brush resting motionless on this mantel. Right here. It sits immobile to signify that one day, like Central Expressway, the project will reach completion.” All I need is a permanent “excuse our progress” sign.
I am not an overly competitive person. I don’t love an argument. I have never thought that I was one who needed to be right. At least not always right ALL the time. So when this scene unfolded and made my neck hair stand at attention I was surprised at myself. Whenever I find that something insignificant brings out my worst, I know that it is time for a deep breath and a hard look at the state of my soul.
This nugget of self-realization hit me quite out of the blue at an adorable shop yesterday. Three weeks ago I bought a reasonably-priced galvanized tray and I wanted my friend Lisa to see the cute store from whence it came. The shop’s entrance was canopied by illuminated twigs and tied with teeny chalkboard signs encouraging one to “relax,” “breathe” and “buy more crap” O.K. Not the last one. But if Magnolia Market had an illegitimate second country cousin twice removed this place would be it.
Lisa is a lady. She acted predictably: classily oohing and aahing as I blurted out, “I WANT TO BUY ONE OF EVERYTHING IN THE WHOLE STORE!” like Will Ferrell jacked up on candy corn. I love Lisa because she is self-possessed and has awesome cheeses at her home at all times. I could knock on her door at three a.m. and in five minutes she would fart out a seven layer dip and some exotic cracker with which to scoop it out. She can still wear shorts. I stand amazed. Anyway, she loved this place as I knew she would.
The owner flitted around rearranging succulents and cotton ball wreaths; the whole place hearkened back to an idealized farm-house life minus the hassle of actually milking anything. I excitedly complimented her bird cages, porcelain berry cartons, cow creamers and pedestals. The merchant, clearly over my initial enthusiasm, struggled for another way to phrase “thank you.” Just then Lisa picked up the tray I bought three weeks prior. I said, “I love that! I got that tray three weeks ago.” That statement shed light on a hidden fault as bright as the rusted bed spring fixture shining above me. As it would happen, I rather enjoy being right.
The owner looked up through the micro-herb garden to correct me, “Oh no, I remember that you bought the one that was a little larger with a ring at the top.” I stared blankly and felt my face ask, ”Could this be true? Am I mistaken? Don’t I know one two-tiered galvanized tray from the next? What kind of animal AM I?”
My lack of response evoked an even more passionate attempt from the owner to jog my memory. “Yes, the tray you bought was a bit wider and instead of the wooden handle there was more of a ring on the top.” She made a ring motion with her right hand which she thought would bring it all home for me. “That’s the one you got.” Her speech slowed and eyes widened, as she firmly reminded me that I had not in fact purchased that particular tray but rather one like it, you know the one with the ring that stupid people buy.
I did not comment because I thought that perhaps she was right. She seemed so confident about what I purchased on my first and only visit to her shop weeks ago. Maybe I was wrong and she was hiding an enormous hippocampus under her organic, locally-sourced flax garden hat like people who can remember what they ate for breakfast in 1987. I struggled to remember our black lab’s first birthday party when I used the tray. My mind’s eye revealed decorations, Pupperoni in galvanized cups, homemade dog cake and human food: cake balls with blue #1 picks on top. No ring that I could remember.
Curiosity got the best of me and so with a grove of petite olive trees blocking the owners view, I used my remaining cell battery to search for conclusive evidence. With the moral high ground to retain, like Atticus Finch, I needed evidence to vindicate myself. This completely uninvited and unwarranted accusation must be answered, right?
I scrolled through photos until I found Cash’s Birthday montage. (don’t judge) Impatiently, my fumbling fingers enlarged the picture of our kitchen table. Alas I saw the galvanized tray just as I had remembered. A slight wooden handle adorned the top. Glee flooded my soul. I was right and that could only mean one thing: she was wrong. Buzzing with vindication, I wondered what to do next? Should I casually saunter over to Lisa and prove my innocence or do I go straight to the heart of the matter and show the owner that I was right first?
My innards rejoiced, the embarrassment left my face and my left hand held the proof that I wasn’t off my nut. Right? Then the piety set in. How dare she accuse me of recollecting wrongly? The nerve. Who does this person think she is? Then it happened; I felt a twinge in my gut. A zing which, when I listen, helps me to simmer down when something flies all over me. A still, small prompting warns me.
“Why does this matter so much to you?” I felt The Spirit question, “Why are you bothered by this? Slow your roll before your mouth blurts out that which has up until now thankfully been reserved to your head.” I breathed deeply and wondered why I felt like I had to be right? Why did this even begin to matter to me? Why would the accusation of me not remembering the details of an idiotic yet adorable kitchen accessory get under my skin so?
I recognize consistently that when I am offended by the small stuff that my heart has gotten janky somewhere along the way. The fact is the rightest thing we can do at times is not insist on how right we are. Chances are if I am feeling defensive that there is something in my soul out of whack. I am not meant to be a defensive soul but a hearty one with a loose hold on blessings, with nothing to prove and nothing to lose.
Each Maggie Lee for Good Day has a rhythm all its own: a cast of colorful characters from various countries, races, religions and ideologies dancing out a good deed in their unique way. The timbre they hear and follow differs but from our perspective they are a beautiful flash-mob of random kindness unleashed on October 29th.
Some reach out just to let me in on their secret, “Hey, don’t post my name anywhere but we’re paying a month of bills for a single mom we know. We had her sister sneak into her house and find out to the penny what her bills for November will be. We’re giving her a wad of cash! Maggie Lee for Good!”
Others like my friends Gina and Colleen sent out fliers for their well-orchestrated events. One lady in Flower Mound, TX who was moved by the MLFG story sent Maggie Lee’s Closet a check for $750.00 and simply told Colleen, “I understand how they feel.” Another friend, Jeff, listed his custom duck call along with the reason why he was selling it on a message board and it brought $450.00. The craftsman who made it was so moved that he is replacing it fee of charge.
Impoverished kids in Tipton, GA, brought cans of food to share with their food bank as well as Caddo Middle Magnet School kids-to the tune of thousands of pounds of cans. Oh, and every single CMM student received a post-it note of encouragement on their locker.
The FBCS student body which had raised over $400.00 already through candy sales came through with generous donations for each of the charities highlighted at the celebration.
Andy donated dog food to a shelter while his wife answered my 911 call for a huge replacement 4 balloon for the donation celebration here. Rodan+Fields rep Elizabeth brought Halloween costumes to MLC and made MLFG the charity for October.
In Fayetteville, NC Jessie’s fifth annual costume fun run raised over $1,000.00 for NC Organ Donation Services. On her 18th birthday trip to New York she represented MLFG and hot great pics with the Today Show hosts Al Roker & Savannah Guthrie.
In New York the cast of Broadway’s Wicked collected kids’ clothing to help little people in need. Some like my mom who knew Maggie Lee well and whose random chin hairs remained untweezed now that she is gone breakfast for three different groups in need.
So who cares? You do. Doing your festive little dance in Senegal flinging loaves of bread in Jesus’ name, reaching out to the homeless in New Orleans, baking cookies in Houston and collecting donations for doggies in Shreveport.
The whimsy of God, the winsome ways of his partners, the wondrous unfolding of the Maggie Lee For Good story. How woven together we truly are.
There is so much truly bad news in the headlines today. On Monday a student at Sparks Middle School in Nevada armed with a semi-automatic weapon killed a teacher and wounded two others. Between tragedies like that and rediculousness like Miley Cyrus’ dance moves its easy to be discouraged about this generation of kids. But there are so many more quietly living impactful lives, doing good for others in need and living lives of character. Here are a few who have made a difference.
￼Shreveport 8th Grade Cheerleaders have raised over $1,500.00 for pediatric brain injury support groups on MLfG Day through their snack stands. They met Live! hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan and shared their MLfG story in New York last year.
Contact: Petra Barber:
Sixth-grader Kathleen and fourth-grader Meredith Doucet of Flower Mound, TX held a hot chocolate stand on MLfG Day in 2012. They raised $400.00 for Maggie Lee’s Closet. They will again be selling hot chocolate for good on November 2nd.
Contact: Colleen Doucet:
video of hot chocolate stand:
Every year High School Sophomore Jessie Keener sponsors the Maggie Lee for Good Costume fun run to benefit North Carolina Organ Donation services. The athletic beauty queen will again have a fun run on October 27th at Fayetteville Christian Academy. This year’s event is MLFG 4 EJB- dedicated to another young girl Emmi Barbaro (pictured above) who passed away this year who embodied the one day, one deed, one difference spirit.
Contact: Millie Keener:
The Ponder boys of Shreve Island Elementary are holding a book drive for Maggie Lee’s Closet and recruited Eden Gardens and South Highlands to join them. Benjamin Ponder did 10 good deeds on his 10th birthday: one of them was working in Maggie Lee’s Closet.
There is good being done in the world. Despite the sensationalism of the bad, rest assured that this generation has those looking beyond themselves and their phones to make a difference.
Drive Thru Hot Chocolate MLFG Project *click here for video
This is a video of Meredith & Colleen Doucet’s drive-thru hot chocolate stand they convinced their whole neighborhood to attend. The donations purchased uniforms for under resourced kids through Maggie Lee’s Closet. These girls make a difference and have a blast doing it.
Your fifth Maggie Lee for Good Day is happening in just two weeks. I say yours because God keeps inspiring you and you keep listening to His still, small creative voice to do good on purpose on October 29th. You touch the world with His passionate pizazz and color greyed-out faces with your blush brush of kindness. You love in brilliant, fun & festive ways and that your expressions of kindness are done with Maggie Lee in mind is like the greatest, biggest chevron bow on top.
Today I got the most knowing, loving smile. An elderly African American lady walked past my car today as I waited for Jack and 3 other football players to come out. His school is in an older part of town and there are always lots of pedestrians on the sidewalk. This lady wore the clothes of a housekeeper with her silvery hair needly pinned in a bun at the nape of her neck. She glanced over her left shoulder, caught my glance and gave me the most genuine smile I have ever received. Love practically shot out of this woman’s wrinkles and on to me as I sat mindlessly waiting in the carpool line.
Why was I given such a gift today? Why was this nonverbal sign of love and affirmation shown to me by a stranger? After considering all of the possible motivations behind her familiar, loving grin I instantly realized that her smile had nothing to do with me and everything to do with HER. She reached out with to me with her beautiful, kind smile not because we are friends or even acquaintances. No, she was just filled with so much love that she had to share it. I’m telling you it arrested me and made me feel amazing.
On Maggie Lee for Good Day you may not be able to organize a food drive, give blood or mow your neighbor’s grass which is so unruly that toddlers get lost up in there. You may not crank out an awesome hot chocolate stand and catch the UPS guy’s attention. You may not find the white shoe polish to write “Happy Birthday Maggie Lee,” on your mini van with like you planned. And that’s ok. But you do have a face and if you’re not using it for The November cover of Vogue perhaps you could give a heart felt smile to someone…and here’s where it gets crazy…you don’t even know.
It costs so little to be kind. A few nano seconds to hold the door for someone, yield the right of way for a fellow motorist or look up directions on your phone for a confused person (I thank you in advance.) These tiny things are monumental because in doing them you demonstrate the belief that others have dignity not because of what they’ve made of themselves but merely because God made them. They breathe. That’s enough reason for me to be kind to them.
Your fifth Maggie Lee for Good Day. How will you use it…for good?
Five Years of Good
Maggie Lee for Good Day 2013
Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson Threw out a pitch for Shreveport Little League’s Maggie Lee for Good Invitational in early April. This event raised clothing donations for Maggie Lee’s Closet a free boutique for underprivileged children in Shreveport, LA.
Maggie Lee for Good Day began five years ago after the First Baptist Church of Shreveport bus accident in July 2009. Several of those headed to Youth Camp in Macon, GA were seriously injured and Brandon Ugarte and Maggie Lee Henson were killed as a result. MLfG Day was launched as a way for friends and strangers alike to bring good out of tragedy. So far over 25,000 people have celebrated Maggie Lee’s birthday, October 29th, by performing a kind deed for someone in need.
Each MLfG Day brings heartwarming sights in the Shreveport-Bossier area. “Happy Birthday Maggie Lee!” shoe polished on cars, throngs of kids in MLfG t-shirts, bake sales, school events, and Chick-fil-A Signs encouraging good deeds. Each School in Tifton, GA participates in MLFG Day and last year I was honored to spend their MLfG Day (October 16th,) with them and meet those so passionate about this event honoring someone they had never even met. It was absolutely incredible and thousands of dollars were raised for the Ronald McDonald House in Macon, GA.
Maggie Lee for Good Events once more spanned from Houston to Chicago, Seattle to New York and many locations in between. There were food drives in Tifton, GA, a Doucet Family hot chocolate stand in Flower Mound, TX, FBCS Cheerleaders in MLfG Shirts with Kelly & Michael Show in New York, N.Y., Jessie Keener’s fun run in Fayetteville, North Carolina, senior bingo for The Carters in Dallas,TX, a bake sale in Escuelo Campo Allegre in Carracas, VN and a food drive by students of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, TX just to name a few.
Fast-forward to Spring: Community Renewal International’s Maggie Lee Henson Celebration of Caring brought Shreveport’s first flash mob (yes I danced and whoa… was it ever ugly.) The Caring Angel Award was presented to Shalon Lewis and hundreds of Shreveport-Bossier Residents from every walk of life enjoyed a free picnic courtesy of Red Ball Oxygen.
This Spring a year-round opportunity for good was birthed: Maggie Lee’s Closet. Last Fall John noticed children in dire need of uniforms as he officed in The Highland Center. Some of these kids only had one set of clothes to wear Monday through Friday. Starting with just a $500.00 donation of uniforms and a passion to clothe kids, Church for The Highlands volunteers renovated a basement space in The Highland Center to house Maggie Lee’s Closet. Academy-Award Winning Moonbot Studios painted a beautiful mural, a donor gave the mirror, John and our son Jack built the runway stage and uniform and clothing donations came pouring in. MLC is currently open on Thursdays from 3-6 pm to correlate with the Highland Blessing Dinner (a free, hearty homestyle meal).
Maggie Lee’s Closet is a learning experience for the many different children who give their time to straighten racks or Lysol shoes. There has been a tremendous response to the positive benefits of hands-on kindness, perspective-enlarging service which happens in Maggie Lee’s Closet each week. Volunteers from Church for The Highlands, Cathedral of St. John Berchman’s, St. George Greek Orthodox, King’s Highway Christian Church, St. Marks Episcopal, Noel UMC, First Presbyterian Church , FUMC Shreveport, Bel Air Baptist Church, Asbury UMC, Broadmoor United Methodist, St. Joseph’s School, Church of Latter Day Saints, Southfield School, FBCSchool, Caddo Middle Magnet, Byrd High School, Broadmoor Middle School, Eden Gardens, Youree Drive Middle School and Alpha Chi Omegas from LA Tech and others have donated their clothing and time organizing the closet. Cosse-Silmon had a clothing drive for MLC as well. Nearly 500 children have been served in this free children’s boutique where children find love and self-esteem not just a new pair of jeans.
Shreveport Sports Icon Tim Fletcher and Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson threw out pitches for the Shreveport Little League’s Maggie Lee for Good Invitational in April. Clothing donations were collected for Maggie Lee’s Closet.
The book Maggie Lee for Good which we wrote 2 years ago tells the story of loss and God’s ongoing redemption. One night I was struggling to write the closing for a book whose story was ongoing I was stumped. I went to bed and dreamt that Maggie Lee and I were sitting in a closet just talking. She kept interrupting me and saying, “Jesus is so awesome.” When I awoke, I knew that was the one message I needed to communicate. And it still is. Both time and The Holy Spirit have brought healing beyond anything I could ever imagine. Though there are still bleak days there are far more grateful ones as we try to communicate Jesus’ awesomeness through service to the least of these. Please join us…for good.
Please like the face book group https://www.facebook.com/MaggieLeeforGood
for the latest information.
“Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.” –The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Upon re-reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I was struck by a new revelation about this beloved, disobedient icon: Peter was really kind of wuss. It didn’t take very much for this bunny to throw in the towel. You’ve heard the story: Mrs. Rabbit needed to run errands, left the sisters in charge and forbade the children to go to Mr. McGregor’s Garden (where her husband was caught and cooked into a pie.) While his sisters were distracted on their blackberries Peter snuck out and ran straight to the forbidden garden. Once there, he ate too much, lost his loafers and got stuck in a net. Hope vanished and Peter gave himself up for lost. Loudly. With the big rabbit tears apparently.
As I glanced at the image of Peter’s corpse-like body which looked hot-glued to the net I recognized something: myself. I recalled times in my not-so-distant past when I was the one helplessly horizontal and utterly discouraged. While the girl in those Baylor pictures with the big bad hair would have singularly identified with the sparrow, now I know what it feels like to be on the needy end of the encouragement equation. What also took me no time to recognize was that while I have logged time in the net, I have never done so without the company of someone who was quick to listen and share in my distress.
Although I have been falsely accused of reading too much into things (You’ve seen the cartoon where God, watching a preacher sermonize on Sunday morning leans over to St. Peter and says, “Can you believe how much this guy is getting out of that one verse? I never meant any of that!”) there are some notable cues we can take from the birds in this story. First of all, the sparrows were first responders, they heard Peter’s cry and rushed to investigate. These friendly guys “flew to him in great excitement” when they heard his sobs rather than ignoring his very loudly-vocalized needs.
Also, the birds “Implored him to exert himself. ” I imagine that there was little in the way of opposable thumbs the sparrows had to offer. I mean, really, what tools did these birds have to help Peter? Nothing save intentional encouragement. Only Peter could free himself but he would never be free if he quit. Sometimes the stuck among us have simply lost heart to try. But if someone cared enough to arrive on the scene without condemnation but rather with a few words of earnest encouragement, change could surely take place. God can take our concern and liberate the lonely and stuck.
Just as the sparrows found Peter in his hour of need perhaps this will sentiment will find you. Even in a ridiculous over-interpretation of 32 words written 100 some odd years ago about a fully clothed rabbit whose mother uses and umbrella and buys currant buns. Really? Perhaps.
Conversely, if you are the strong one out there today don’t forget to lend an ear. Listen and if you do hear that sob today, fly swiftly and implore. Don’t think too much about it or you will talk yourself out of it. Perhaps all the hopeless struggler needs is the simple message that they will not become a pot pie today.
“He comforts us in all our troubles , so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor. 1:4
I get to work Thursdays at a job I love as volunteer coordinator for Maggie Lee’s Closet: a fabulous and free children’s clothing boutique in a basement room of The Highland Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. Renovations to the space began a year ago and even before the paint could dry, gently used clothing donations came pouring in. The closet is recycling in its most beautiful form; people give gently worn kids clothes to those who desperately need them. We fill in essentials like uniforms, socks and undies through monetary donations (the beautiful Briery girls on the left along with friends Georgia, Anna & Sally) held a lemon & loom stand and raised close to $60.00 for MLC!)Thanks to Moonbot Studios’ brilliant mural, clothing donations and hundreds of volunteer hours the place sparkles like a high-end boutique. And I get the glorious job of helping kids shop and watching deeply relieved parents check an item off of their burden lists.
Last Thursday a volunteer Maggieleesta and I had the privilege of outfitting two kids who had recently lost everything in a rental house fire. While Beth helped the youngest with uniforms and play clothes, I loaded up big brother with things he would need this Fall. I am acutely aware that a loud white woman holding up boxers and bellowing, “these gonna work?” may be seen as embarrassing to some so I try to be discreet with the undertreasures. Try. In this case I just pointed him in the general direction of the drawers and told him to grab what he needed. The eighth grader was humble, hesitant to take anything and truly grateful. Kids like that can have last penny. I LOVE serving polite young people and have met throngs of them in this endeavor.
After taking my client next door to Men’s Gear for khakis that would fit, (sometimes our eighth graders are grown men) I got to know the single Mom and hear a little bit about her story. She told me that the best clothes her kids had were the uniforms she had received from MLC during Khakifest last month. Then the fire happened. When I asked how the blaze started, she answered in a matter of fact tone. She plugged an extension cord into a rarely used bedroom outlet and went to the kitchen. When she returned the room was full of smoke. She grabbed her boys, called 911 and got out. With just the clothes on their backs. Now a few weeks into school her family was left with nothing. “We’re gonna make it though. We’re gonna make it.” She repeated in a calm, persevering tone like this was clearly not the biggest challenge she had ever faced.
While I listened to this woman who lost the little she had to begin with I was struck by her composure. In just a few days she had taken steps to find a new home for her children and replace some furniture. Today she would secure uniforms and wash those the boys had been wearing which still smelled of smoke. While I was enthralled in the survival story, Beth was on the other side of the closet having the real fun. In full-on personal shopper mode she stationed herself in front of the size ten tops, offered shirt after shirt to the younger brother and tried desperately to elicit feedback. Any feedback. Think: help me help you. The distracted little guy was tunneling through the clothes rack like The Caddyshack gopher when the next suggestion stopped him cold in his tracks. Beth took a plain red Polo and held it up in his direction. “Ok, how about this one? Can you see it? What do you think?”
Crooning his neck he popped out of the circular rack and offered a firm “No. M’am.” She thought he was simply being picky but his emphatic reply was quickly explained as he continued.
“No red. Red is for Bloods. I don’t want nothin’ red” The third grader stated as he dismissed the crimson shirt and burrowed on. Beth swallowed hard and persevered, suggested a few more items until little man found something he liked. She bundled up the uniforms, socks, briefs and street clothes and tucked them neatly in his bag.
They thanked us, left and as I filed away their application alphabetically in our client book Beth relayed the story of the red shirt. It was arresting to think that this child was already aware of the specifics of gang violence. At just eight years of age, he already knew that the wrong color shirt could cost you your life. Eight. What must daily life look like for this child? He is not in a dangerous foreign country but rather in my city where my child goes to school with no fear of mortal repercussions for his wardrobe choice.
I realize that I cannot solve the expansive litany of this city’s much less this world’s problems with gently used jeans and even the cutest of T-shirts. So many needs abound that it can be utterly paralyzing. But we can in this small way through lemonade stands, closet clean-outs and volunteer hours be somebody’s answered prayer. In this case the answered prayer of a determined Mother striving to protect, educate and provide for her children.
“Never believe that a few caring people cannot change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” -Margaret Mead