May

20

2014

A bitter cold Washington D.C.

Much of the U.S. was hit by severe weather this past winter. Even in traditionally warmer climates, like Washington, D.C., this city has been known to experience a couple inches of snow and colder temperatures maybe once every five years, but this past winter, D.C. experienced three government-shut-down winter storm events.

Being from Montana, I am used to severe winter conditions and prepare accordingly, but many regions in the US are not equipped to handle two to three feet of snow or temperatures that drop into the teens.

On one of my trips to D.C. this past winter, I was walking back to my hotel from a cordial dinner event and happened to walk by a man curled up in a fetal position in a storefront doorway on the cold bare sidewalk. He did have a couple meager blankets on him, but there was no way he was going to survive the night as the temperatures were predicted to drop into the single digits.

The sight of this man curled up on the ground, hoping for enough body heat to keep him warm, was very disturbing. I told my companion that I could not just walk away. This man needed help.

I said my goodnights to my friend and went up to my room and immediately called the front desk. When the attendant answered the phone, I told her I had an odd request. I wanted to know if I could purchase the unused blankets in my room because I wanted to take them to a homeless person a couple doors down from the motel that would either not make it through the night or would have a very uncomfortable and scary night of trying. She said she would have to talk to her supervisor and get back to me. I was on hold for just a few minutes when she came on the line and said that they would be happy to sell me blankets for $10.00 a piece. I thought, done and what a deal. These blankets were thick and warm! But at that moment I would have paid any price. I told her I would be right down.

When I got to the front desk I asked to speak to the supervisor. A young man came out of his office and I relayed what the blankets were for. I also asked that he accompany me back to the man on the street, as I did not want to approach him alone. I did not know his circumstance, and I thought it unwise to go solo. The supervisor was more than willing to accompany me on my mission.

We bundled up and walked back and noted how cold it was. Colder temperatures were on the way. When we reached the man, I put my hand on his back to get his attention, as I did not want to startle him. He looked up at me and I told him I had some blankets for him. He nodded his head and said thank you and settled back into his fetal position. I took the blankets and wrapped him in as I would a child that I did not want to fall out of bed at night. I wanted to make sure he was tucked in to try to keep the cold away. I asked the man if there was anything else I could do, but he did not respond. He seemed happy to know that warmth was on the way.

As I walked back to the hotel, the young man informed me that his hotel chain always donates unused bath products to the local homeless shelter. That was good to know. I would definitely support a business that takes the time to help their community.

Even though I was grateful that our mission was accomplished, I could not help feeling that I wish I could have done more. But for me, “more” is to help when I can. Not judge, not question whether someone really needs help, but be there when help is needed. This is what we are all called to do.

 

Julia Cummings