A few weeks ago, I started packing an extra lunch to give to the homeless guys on the block that I adopted in NYC. There are usually two or three guys on that block.
I started packing an extra lunch, just to up my thoughtful giving game. Instead of giving the guys a little treat pack, I would give them a meal that I made in my own kitchen. This was about sharing the blessing I’ve been given. If God deemed that my refrigerator and pantry be filled with so much food (more food than I can consume myself), then I should share the bounty.
When I changed my diet a couple of months ago, I noticed there were certain items I could not donate to the neighborhood food pantry. It made me ponder what I should do with all of this food I can’t eat anymore. That’s when I realized I could cook up a few meals and give it to my guys during the week.
I have a bread machine with plenty of flour. I didn’t know what I could do with all of that flour after my lifestyle changed. Then I realized, I can bake bread for them.
A few days after I came up with the idea of making complete meals for the guys, I saw a Facebook posting about someone who used to do the same thing.
When the writer of the story was a young boy, his mother used to send him to school with an extra lunch for one of the boys in his class. She told him, “Give him the lunch before school.” He didn’t understand why. There were times he would hand the boy the lunch during lunch hour.
He didn’t realize until he was older that the reason why his mother asked him to give the boy the lunch before school was so that no one would know his situation. It was a way of hiding that boy’s poverty from their classmates. Kids can be cruel. His mother wanted to protect the boy from that cruelty he would have received from other kids by receiving this charity.
The author realized the invaluable lesson she was instilling in him. There are kids today that are humiliated because they can’t afford a hot lunch. It is even exacerbated by the school system when children have their hot meals taken away and have it replaced by a cheese sandwich.
A bunch of idiots on a school board decided to institute those rules of cheese sandwiches when parents failed to pay their children’s lunch bills. It’s the school system humiliating the child in front of all of the other children, because their parents are not paying the school lunch bill. They’re punishing the child for their parents’ failure.
It’s not right.
Imagine though changing that narrative if you are a parent. What if you sent an extra lunch with your child, just in case there was another child that was subjected to the cheese sandwich? What if you sent them with extra food for those children whose only food they will receive that day are from those school meals? There are some schools that have a private food pantry for impoverished children who are from homes that cannot afford food.
It is private so that other children do not know who is shopping that food pantry.
It is a shame that children have to fear other children finding out that they are starving. Children with the wealth of food on their tables should share with those who do not have that same blessing. This is a human quality that should be instilled in each and every one of us. We should not feel ashamed or overprotective of sharing our blessings with others.
I’ve seen people repulsed when I stop to give food to the homeless guys or stop to talk to them. Someone was telling me recently that he was out with a woman when they were stopped by a homeless man asking for assistance. He went to give him the few dollars he had in his pocket. The homeless man accidentally brushed up against the woman and she freaked out. She was so disgusted she said she had to go home and shower to get the homeless off of her.
When he told me this story, my mouth literally dropped. He re-emphasized the most important point, “They are human beings, too.”
We live in a world where there is so much abundance. It is unfathomable that anyone should go hungry in this country. How is it that we cannot share this wealth of food with everyone?
If you’re a parent, teach your kids a valuable lesson about being a thoughtful and giving human being. Send them to school with an extra lunch for those kids that are hungry. Get the other families to do it, too. If there’s no private food pantry, get the school on board to start one. If there is one in your child’s school, donate to it.
Kids that don’t have to worry about food have a better chance at succeeding in school. When they are focused on where their next meal is coming from or the fact that they are starving, they will fail in school. Even in colleges, this is an issue. Don’t think that just because someone got into college that they are not homeless or starving. They are still trying to better their situation, but it becomes difficult when they are looking at the clock hoping they get to the shelter in time or the fact that they are starving. When all you can think about is food, it makes it harder to concentrate on your studies.
It takes a village to help raise each and every child. We need to change the current narrative and stop being so divided. It is small changes like this that will help move our future as a society in the right direction.
For the adults, pack an extra lunch. You never know who you’ll encounter that may be hungry and starving. Maybe you already know someone that could use that extra lunch you’ve packed. There may even be someone in your own workplace or church congregation that can’t afford food.
Donate to your local food pantry. If there’s no community food pantry, start a giving box where people can put food in the pantry box. People that need the food can take what they want. This is about helping each other. No one in America should go hungry. Do your part and share your blessings with others. Not everyone gets that same blessing of a hot meal three times a day. Some people are praying for what you take for granted.
How are you changing the world? Oftentimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget to care about anything else around us that doesn’t affect us. Then one day, time stands still for a moment and we are forced to stop. We are forced to watch an atrocity taking place. Then we ask ourselves how this could happen. How could evil like this be born into this world? What can we do to help the victims? How can we stop the evil from growing? How can we stop it from happening again?
When we say “we,” we don’t necessarily mean ourselves. We mean the government, our armies and just about everyone else out there but ourselves. Trust me when I say you’re not the only person thinking that.
That’s what needs to change. We need to change.
If we truly seek to change the world and to make it into a better place, we need to go out there and make these changes. How does one start?
It’s The Little Things
Changing the world doesn’t happen overnight. It takes small steps at first. You start by getting out of your shell and interacting with complete strangers.
After seeing the movie “Shelter,” I started carrying around extra food with me to give to any homeless person I came across. Usually, it’s an orange or a clementine. Homeless and the poor don’t always get their nutrients because they don’t have access to fruits and vegetables all of the time. With the cold days of winter settling in, they’ll need some Vitamin C to keep them from getting sick.
Since seeing the movie, I find myself walking up to sleeping homeless men and leaving them an orange beside them. I stop to talk to a drugged out homeless kid begging for money, handing him an orange with instructions that he must eat it so he doesn’t get sick. I gave one to the guy I’ve seen everyday for the last 10 years because he’s wearing a boot on one of his legs now (how he injured himself is beyond me because he’s always sitting there zenlike, minding his own business, smoking a cigarette).
When I first gave that last guy an orange, his eyes lit up at the kindness. He looked at me and thanked me for the kindness. He was genuine about it, too. You could see it in his eyes.
It was one of those moments where just that one human interaction was very important. It meant that he wasn’t invisible. Someone actually saw him, stopped and acknowledged him.
I’ve noticed over these past few weeks random people watching me stop to leave something for the homeless man at the Finding Neverland theater on Broadway. I think they’re shocked that a well dressed person carrying a bag that could pay their rent for several months, would stop to pay attention to one homeless man. In a way, I hope that by watching me doing an act of kindness, it will encourage them to do the same.
I check to see what he’s eaten while he’s sleeping. It’s apparent he’s getting a lot of his food from Carmine’s. He doesn’t eat it all, but I notice that he’s eating that orange I left him. That’s what I’m checking for. I want to make sure he’s getting his Vitamin C.
I left him another orange this morning, but this time in a Ziploc bag filled with some candy as an extra treat.
For that doped up kid I ran into last night, I checked this morning to see if he did as I asked. Sure enough, someone bought him a McDonald’s breakfast this morning. He didn’t even eat it. But that orange…he ate.
There’s a reason why I chose oranges to carry with me to give out to the homeless. First, they need their nutrients. Second, it’s a sweet treat. Third, what harm can come from an orange?
The third part is the one I want to elaborate on. When you give, you need to make sure that what you give is something that will benefit another human being in more ways than one. You are doing a good deed, so make sure that the good deed is something good for them.
McDonald’s is not conducive of a healthy place to eat. Sure, it’s a hot meal, but there’s only so much McDonald’s a poor person can take. It’s also not a place you’d want to eat every single day. It’s junk food.
When you give, you have to think about the true karmic benefits of giving. What if the person was a vegetarian or didn’t eat pork, but you handed them a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast because beggars can’t be choosers, right? WRONG.
Give them something you would eat. Give them something to eat that you enjoy. Give them something that will help them in that very moment keep up their health.
The reason why giving out fruit is a special treat for me (and for the people I give them to) is because there is a high risk of Vitamin C deficiency in the poor and homeless. That leads to sickness and scurvy. Giving them an orange is like giving someone a moment of sweetness that will benefit them and their health. [For more on the scurvy problem in the poor, click on that link.]
When you give to others, expecting nothing in return, you need to think of the good karmic benefit and how far it will go. If you gave them a meal from McDonald’s, how far does that good karma go if the meal makes them sick? I mean, it’s junk food. It’s not good for you. You know that. That’s not how you create a good karmic act.
If you hand them money, what if they take that money to buy drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and other things that are bad for them? How are you helping them? You’re not. You’re feeding into the reason why they are on the streets to begin with.
When you decide what is best to give, think of how it can benefit the person you are giving to. A bottle of water is a good thing. A can of soda is a bad thing. A cup of hot coffee or tea and a conversation is enlightening. A brand new pair of boots can be a bad thing.
For those who are aware of the police officer in Times Square that bought a homeless man a pair of brand new boots during one of the coldest winters Manhattan has seen in years, his kind deed was all over the internet and news. What wasn’t all over the news was what that homeless man did with those brand new boots.
About five days later, I was walking through Port Authority and saw that same man…without the boots. He was back to being barefoot again. I let a few of the news media outlets know about it and they headed down to Port Authority to see it for themselves. Sure enough, he wasn’t wearing them. He said he hid them. He didn’t want anyone to steal them from him. Truthfully, he probably had them stolen from him or he sold them. If they were used boots, he probably would have kept them.
He took that police officer’s good deed and shit all over it.
That’s what you need to be careful of…doing what you think is a good deed, but it ends up being cut short in the cycle of creating good karma by the person you did the kind act for. Those are the good deeds you want to avoid doing, because it doesn’t help anyone no matter how good your intent was.
Creating Good Karma
Creating good karma for yourself and for the world doesn’t end when you do the deed. You have to think of creating a kind act that will continue long after you’ve done your good deed.
For instance, in Morocco, the people there speak kindly of an American woman namedAmy Bend Bishop who visited Morocco back in 1927. She was the woman responsible for creating a free veterinary hospital in Fez, Morocco.
You may not think that’s creating anything special, but it was very special to the people.
The animals in Morocco are almost all work animals. The livelihood of the people depends mainly on those animals. If an animal needs medical attention, they can take it to this free hospital and receive free care for the animals. Although, if the animal is a pet, the owner usually has to pay for the vet bill. The reason that is that if you can afford to buy the food and care for a pet, then you should be able to afford the vet bill for your pet.
Her kind act to the people (and animals) of Morocco has helped keep the good karma flowing long after her death. The people there appreciate this act of kindness because it has helped them in so many ways. She also has people speaking kindly of her long after she’s died.
This is how you keep the good karma flowing and what we should all aim to do. Change the world one small step at a time.
There’s also a lady in Manhattan that died last week that had so many people in attendance at her funeral. Her family was astonished by how many people came. The church didn’t have enough seats to fit everyone.
The people that attended her funeral weren’t just family and friends. They were people whose lives she changed personally. For one Indian family that attended, they said that she had stayed in their home in India for one night many years ago. When one of the girls from that family came to America to attend Columbia University, the girl and her family were invited to stay with this lady for as long as it took for them to get acclimated to New York. How long was that? A month. This coming from staying with this family for one night in India. That is what we call being over generous.
That was the type of person she was.
Her manicurist…she helped her find a husband. She helped get her kids into the right schools. She really was so much a part of helping this woman and her family with all of the major things that happened in her life. Yet, she was just her manicurist.
She helped change the life of each person she came into contact with throughout her journeys around the world. Those changes were big changes in each person’s life. The amount of gratitude they have for her is the game changer.
She lived an incredible, happy life. Everyone loved her. She was wealthy and giving. She used her influence and her mind, heart and soul to change the world around her.
They may be little things to her, but they were big things for the people she helped.
This is how you change the world. You do things that will help people ALL OF THE TIME. There are problems that are BIGGER than you can imagine like how do you stop terrorists? You start by changing how you look at life, how you treat people, and by being kind.
You also have to stop being afraid. You have to stop disconnecting with life. You have to start reconnecting with the world not through your devices, but through real human interaction. The more you disconnect from the real world, the more the world becomes a stranger to you. You, just like everyone else that chooses to disconnect, becomes part of the problem, not part of the solution.
You can say you want change in this world, but you can’t change it by saying it. YOU need to be the change. YOU need to get out there and make that ripple of change. YOU can’t wait for people to change the world the way you wish to see it. YOU need to make that change the world needs. Start small, but think wisely. Think of how you can impact the world through your acts of kindness for the long run, not the short run. How can you change the world into a better place?
Now, imagine if everyone in the world was working towards this common goal of kindness to each other and making this world a better place for everyone.
Law of Karma
If you want great things to happen in your life, you need to do great things for others. When you do good all of the time for others, you are rewarded sevenfold. It’s just the way the universe works.
If you are constantly doing good and making sure that your good deeds go beyond just that one act and continues to keep going, the more you reap from the karmic benefit.
Happiness, good fortune, treasures, money, an amazing life…just about anything you could ever dream for yourself and so much more happens when you are doing good karmic acts. But it’s important that when you do good deeds, you are not looking for the karmic rewards. The universe still looks at your intent. The intent needs to come from a good place, not from a greedy place.
To change the world, you need to constantly be bestowing blessings upon the world and sharing the wealth that God gives to you. Be over generous, and the universe will be over generous to you.
The thing is, you can’t dictate what you want to the universe. I want to explain why…you need to trust that the universe (God) knows what’s best for you. You may think that you want X, but really it’s not what you need (most times it’s not necessarily good for you). God is a lot wiser than you. Trust that he’ll reward you brilliantly. You have to look beyond material possessions. Sometimes having an amazing journey in life with incredible experiences is worth more than all the money in the world. Happiness is the key factor.
Trust that God will know what will truly make you happy. If you go in with that blind faith, doing good for others all of the time without knowing what the reward will be (or caring what the reward will be), you’ll find God can be over generous, too.
Give greatly. Be over generous. Give wisely. Help everyone. Be kind.
To my fellow Americans, have a happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful for what you’ve been given and share that gratitude with the world by sharing that wealth with everyone you come into contact with. If you have leftovers, consider packing up a few meals and delivering it to shut-ins, the elderly spending Thanksgiving alone, the homeless, or families that need a little cheering up. God has given you this feast, share it with all those around you.
Paul Bettany (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Priest,” “Legion”) makes his directorial debut with the film “Shelter.”
Bettany was inspired to write the film about a homeless couple in Manhattan, taking inspiration from a couple he used to see everyday near his home in Manhattan. Every morning, as he was taking the kids to school, he’d come upon this couple. Every day they exchanged pleasantries, a nice hello, before heading on their separate ways.
After Hurricane Sandy hit, he noticed they were gone. He never saw them again. He always wondered what happened to them.
It was that interracial couple living on the streets that inspired him to dive into the homeless culture and create a story that could have been their tale.
His wife, Jennifer Connelly (Oscar Award winning actress for “A Beautiful Mind”), was cast in the lead role. Anthony Mackie (“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “8 Mile,” “The Night Before”) plays opposite of her leading role. Together, they tell the imagined tale of what could have happened to that couple that Bettany saw outside of his building.
This film dives deeply into the world of homelessness as we follow Tahir, a Nigerian refugee (and former terrorist) with no papers living on the streets. He is trying to find some sort of redemption for the egregious sins he had committed in his lifetime.
He stumbles upon Hannah, a heroin addict, living on the streets. She just so happens to be wearing his jacket that was stolen with the rest of his things while he was in lockup. He follows her around all day before she confronts him for following her. She gives him back his jacket, but he still refuses to leave her. He knows why she is on that overpass.
The only reason why anyone goes up there is if they want to kill themselves. She tries to climb over the fence, but he holds her back.
That is when his redemption begins. He hopes that if he can save her, then he’ll be able to get into heaven to see his family again.
We follow the two as they get to know each other and eventually fall in love. We see what they do to try and earn some money on the streets. We watch as they go through garbage bins looking for food, clothes, boots, and anything they can use to survive living on the streets. We watch how they survive living with only the things they can carry on their backs.
Bettany wants us to see and experience what the homeless go through on the streets of Manhattan. We watch as their story takes a turn for the worst when the weather changes. What they do in order to survive the winter, including the blizzard outside when all of the shelters and housing has turned them away, sheds light on the horrors that occur. People take advantage of those in their most vulnerable states. Hannah’s dignity is completely stripped away to nothing in her desperation to find someplace out of the blizzard. A good Samaritan isn’t such a good Samaritan when he demands another form of payment for his kindness.
A wrench is thrown into the mix when Tahir becomes sick. He knows he’s dying, so his interest becomes solely on Hannah’s safety. He starts encouraging her to go home to her family. They’re looking for her. She refuses to go without him.
The message in this story of Tahir and Hannah is to take a closer look at the homeless around us and to not judge them for their failures. Yes, there are some who are con artists pretending to be homeless and make more money than the person giving them that dollar, but then there are the real homeless people out there that we shouldn’t ignore. Some only need just a chance to get themselves off the streets. For some cities, they need better resources to help people.
“The film is about judgment, not about homelessness,” Bettany told Peter Travers of the New York Film Critics. “I didn’t want to make a film about homelessness being bad or drug addiction being bad or how anybody deemed with those two situations are either criminals or victims. I just wanted to understand the predicament a little bit more. That’s all I wanted to do.”
“The responses to homelessness are a myriad. One of them is ignoring, and the people being invisible. Another one is some downright aggression which has to be borne out of fear. ‘It couldn’t happen to me because I’m different from you. You must have done something to bring yourself that low, because it will never happen to me.’ Well, explain to me why there are so many homeless veterans? Those are men with medals.”
“Last year in New York we passed two milestones. An apartment sold for $100 million. Extraordinary, really. Even more extraordinary though, 60,000 of New York City’s citizens sought shelter in the New York City shelter system every night. 4,000 of them were children. 19,000 of them are women. Half of New York City’s homeless population are families, and all of that is going on in a town that holds more billionaires than any other city on earth.”
“Over the last ten years, we have lost 32% of public housing.”
The question of how they got to be that way isn’t because they chose to be that way. Nobody chooses to be homeless and destitute. As Anthony Mackie said, we are all just one second away from being homeless ourselves. Anything can happen in our lives that can cause us to end up on the streets. For Tahir, he was escaping a past in another country. He was a refugee. For Hannah, her husband died. She didn’t know how to live without him, or how to take care of herself. She was heartbroken and grieving. She started taking heroin to numb the pain she was feeling inside.
There are families living on the streets. People across America are finding it harder and harder to find stable work, especially in places where manufacturing companies closed their doors (see Detroit). Even in NYC, 98% of the garment manufacturing companies closed shop over these last few years. Public housing is becoming fewer and fewer as the number on the streets steadily climbs.
The important thing to note here is that people don’t choose to be destitute and poor. They don’t do this because they want a free handout. When you tell a bum to “Get a job,” you don’t know how many times he’s tried only to have the door slammed in his face again and again. They get to the point where they give up. It’s like the veterans out on the streets. We sent these kids out to fight our wars, but when they came back, we gave up on them. They couldn’t get a job because they were considered risky (due to PTSD).
Look at the job market where manufacturing companies that could have employed people back from the war, refugees, or even the homeless…those manufacturing companies were forced to close their doors one shop at a time. The jobs went overseas. American companies that want Made in the USA products are being forced to send their manufacturing jobs overseas because those manufacturing companies don’t exist on American soil anymore. They don’t want to do it, but they have no choice because the manufacturers are gone.
Say you worked in a manufacturing company and they were forced to close their doors. It was the only place that employed an entire town. What do you do when everyone in town loses their source of income? Pick up the family and move? To where? Where do you take them? If almost all of those manufacturing companies are closing their doors, and that’s where your skill set is, what are you going to do for money?
This is the reality of the homeless situation across America. People don’t choose to be destitute. The circumstances surrounding them forces them into this predicament. It beats them down until they have no choice but to live on the streets. If Americans were always picking up the bill for those living on welfare, keep in mind all of those that did not qualify for welfare. Where are they? They’re the ones in line for the non-profit food trucks carrying food for the homeless. They’re the ones at their local churches asking for some clothes to wear. They’re digging through the trash looking for a pair of shoes. They’re the ones standing in line at the shelter when the weather gets too cold hoping to get a warm bed so they don’t have to sleep out in the storm. These people are the forgotten.
“Shelter” doesn’t just dive into that dark place of homelessness with no redemption. It has its own Hollywood ending. Elements from Connelly’s work in “Requiem for a Dream” comes to light. It was one of the first films that gave people the opportunity to see that she was a force to be reckoned with as being a superior actress. It divorced us from that young girl in “Labyrinth.” This is what that young girl grew up to be…an outstanding actress that would win her own Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “A Beautiful Mind” (where she met her husband, Bettany).
While people may reminisce of how this film reminds us of her role in Requiem, you can also see how her husband pushes her to a whole different level of humanity in her acting. There was one scene in the film that appears to be difficult for Bettany to stomach, even as the director. As a husband, he had difficulties with one particular scene in the film where Hannah is completely degraded, humiliated and all dignity stripped from her. While he was trying to shed light that this is what happens to women on the streets, it also shows the strength in the woman playing Hannah. To see your wife be stripped of all dignity in that one moment, you can understand why Bettany has difficulties with the scene. He tried to protect her all throughout the film. It was as if he was apologizing to his wife for forcing her to go through that scene for the sake of his film.
But one look at Connelly as she watched her husband try to apologize in his own way for making her do that, you can see that’s not how she saw it. She was just Hannah in that scene, not Jennifer Connelly. She was telling Hannah’s story, not Jennifer Connelly’s story. It’s seeing that in her eyes, you understand why she’s the one with the golden statue. She earned that Oscar and you can see why she deserved the most coveted prize. She lives up to that statue’s reputation. She is an actress and plays the role impeccably.
The good thing about Connelly is that you can expect everyone else in the film to bring their A-game to the set each and every day. That’s what Mackie brought to the film. He brought his A-game.
While this film acts one part documentary of the homeless situation, it also shares its own beauty in the cinematography. You can see the beauty and art of the film from the first few seconds as the introductory credits begin and then as it hits its peak in the rain, when the two actors plunge into the pool of water, and ends with a frosted over window on a train.
Paul Bettany’s directorial debut is perfection from beginning to end. He pushes the envelope and takes us into places where we dare not tread in order to show the world…THIS IS HAPPENING. It’s a cry that it’s time we do something.
Another resource located in Detroit, a group called The Empowerment Plan is a non-profit that employ the homeless and gives them a living wage to make coats for the homeless. Those coats are now being distributed all around the world to the homeless. You can’t buy the coat, but you can help by donating to the group so that they can make more coats for people on the streets.
You can learn more about the film and where you can view the interview at New York Film Critics. There, the stars and director share their stories on how the story came into being and what playing these roles meant to them.
All in all, this film is about how we place judgment on the homeless. The purpose is to try to create understanding that will hopefully change the way we see people living on the streets. Maybe it will create change within ourselves by doing something to help.
Shelter is due to be released in movie theaters on Friday, November 13th.