So Close to Home


So Close to Home

I tried not to be overwhelmed by the butterflies in my stomach as our shiny van passed through the grungy narrow streets in Boston’s “rough” neighborhoods. The butterflies became monsters, chomping at my body as recollections of breaking news of violence flashed in my mind. I tightened my grip on my best friend Marissa’s hand and prayed that my face would not be plastered on some depressing news show. At last we parked the car and walked quickly across the street to the small church. My youth group of thirty middle-school students quietly entered the old building and followed an elegant elderly woman down the narrow steps into a faded blue basement. The tension we had felt began to ease off and the girls chatted with excited voices in a small cluster as the boys raced around, fully engrossed in a game of tag.

We were told to take a seat on the cold tile floor to listen to a speaker from the Starlight Ministry. A tall woman in her early-twenties told us that we would be making sleeping bags out of donated blankets that would later be distributed to Boston’s homeless for the winter ahead. I sat and politely watched as the lights flickered off and a video, showing the homeless in my own city, was projected onto a wall.

Images appeared of the 2,900** men, women, and children, just like myself, who ride the dirty, crowded bus everyday just to keep warm. It told a story of a family of four, Jen* and her children Michael*, Hannah*, and Jessica* and their fight against the pain of hunger and the hopelessness that they felt as they resorted to stealing from the grocery store. The video showed an elderly man with a scraggly gray beard and clothes that were dull and ragged, sitting on a bench in the subway station in Porter Square. My giddiness abruptly turned to shame. That man could have been my grandfather. If he was my Papa Dave would I walk by him, refusing to look at him as if by ignoring him he would disappear?

I am lost in thought as we were handed a thick silver needle and huddled in groups of ten around a collapsible table. I yanked faded but warm blankets from a large white industrial trash bag and layered them neatly on top of each other. I threaded my needle with yarn and began to stitch in-and-out like an automaton. The room was filled with deafening chatter but my ears felt clogged and all I heard was a dim buzz. My team was busy working and I sewed with a new-found anger at my ignorance. We used one of my father’s ties to secure the sleeping bag after it had been rolled. It had finally hit me that this would be someone’s home, someone who is just like me. My eyes were saturated with tears as I realized that this person who will receive the sleeping bag is just like me, but they do not have a heated house to go home to with a well-stocked kitchen. This person did not even have enough money to buy a real sleeping bag, but was forced to resort to hand-me-down blankets that I sewed together.

The rest of the day seemed to fly by and as we were about to leave I looked at the ten sleeping bags that we have created, feeling slightly better that at least I have tried to make a difference in someone’s fight against poverty. As we pulled out of the parking lot and drove through the heart of Boston, I see another man, another man who resembles my Papa Dave. They share the same leathered face and the same sunken eyes. But, in this man’s eyes I see no flicker of hope as people pass him as if he was only trash littering their pathway. I never knew that poverty was so close to home.

By Haley Rhodes





* Names changed

**Statistics found at