Many Thank Yous MAG

January 20, 2010
By Yuri Bonilla BRONZE, Phoenix, Arizona
Yuri Bonilla BRONZE, Phoenix, Arizona
4 articles 4 photos 4 comments

“Hi, Yuri. How are you?” a man asked with a joyful smile as I poured salsa into his dinner plate. It was the first time I had actually spoken to a homeless person.

This occurred two years ago, freshman year, on a breezy October evening. I was volunteering at Andre House, a soup kitchen that serves dinner to the homeless in Phoenix. I smiled back at the man, excited to have food on his plate, and responded, “Good.” Walking away, he waved his free hand and said,“God bless you!”

Before I began volunteering at a homeless shelter, my brother would say to me, “Homeless people do not deserve to be helped. If you spend your time around them, you will one day become a homeless person.” Other members of my family would try to stop me from going to the soup kitchen. They viewed the homeless as “dirty, old, and messed-up people;” they said they were dangerous and could not help themselves. But I knew they had only seen homeless people on television, or on the entrances to the freeways from a distance. I knew it was time for me to learn who the homeless were as people, beyond the criticisms I heard on a daily basis.

As I served dinner to the individuals dressed in various outfits, I saw them carrying knapsacks that were as heavy as rocks, stuffed with the necessities of survival. They carried frizzy, multicolored blankets to use while they slept at night. They usually lay down in pitch darkness, and slept on hard surfaces, unlike most of us, who take shelter on mattresses in sparkling-clean bedrooms.

A myriad of military veterans who fought for our country come to the soup kitchen to have meals. Most became homeless because they felt unfit for society after their service, and believed their lives were useless. When they get their meals, they really appreciate it. When I met them, for the first time, I really acknowledged the courage and honor they showed during their years of service, and I began to understand more about what “freedom” really means in the United States. I also became sad, thinking of the friends these veterans had lost in combat.

Loud bangs sounded in the dinner-tray disposal area, and numerous “thank-yous” sang in my ears. People congregated in the dining room and chatted with their friends. It was just like sitting at a particular table filled with school friends at lunch: people discussed their personal lives, their struggles, and their past and present during these group gatherings.

My two years at Andre House have taught me to accept people regardless of their current situation and appearance. I feel more confident every time I speak to the homeless; in addition, I appreciate my own life and opportunities even more.

I've also learned about tolerance and my own prejudices. Homeless people are not rude, and they enjoy dinner with friends at the soup kitchen as much as someone who has dinner with friends in their own home. After serving the homeless, I hear many “thank-yous.” F

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