On Sunday, I helped give away 600 hot dogs and got my first look at the homeless population of Orlando, Florida. I wasn’t expecting either.
After living in Central Florida for three years, Jared and I made our first trip to Lake Eola Park. Apparently, this is like Central Park in Orlando, which is to say that it was a pretty freaking awesome park and I started fantasizing about selling the place in the burbs and living in one of the condos that surrounds the park. Again. The two of us may have taken a lap or two around the park (and called at least one of the other picnic hosts) before we finally spotted the BIG SILVER AIRSTREAM RV that was covered in hot dog stickers. We took a wild guess that we should be there.
Despite our random circling, Jared and I were the first of the blogger hosts to arrive. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, so I started asking random strangers if they knew who was “in charge”. This is not always a good idea in park where homeless people tend to congregate. Nonetheless, I figured it out and blah blah blah – getting to the point.
We gave away 600 hot dogs in less than 4 hours. I know it was less than 4 hours because we had to shut down the picnic early when we ran out of food. The turnout we had was, to put it mildly, much larger than expected.
Mainly because of the homeless we were there to help.
You see, Lake Eola Park is a beautiful park in downtown Orlando that boasts an amphitheater, jogging trails, lake, fountains, grassy knolls, children’s play area, dog park, and a fairly large homeless population. Men, women and children of all ages and races were milling around the Airstream at least 30 minutes before we were going to be serving, eagerly awaiting the free food they’d heard was being given away, nearly all of them in varying stages of homelessness. It should be noted that there is actually a law against feeding the homeless in this park, and this wasn’t the intention of the event; but if you put free food in an area where there are homeless people, I guess it just makes sense that they are going to eat.
It was humbling to see how long people were willing to stand outside under the hot Florida sun for one kosher beef frank, an apple, and a free bottle of water or soda.
It was even more humbling to realize how clueless I was about… well… all of it. For example, I had suggested that we would have picnic attendees assemble Father’s Day gift bags for fathers living at the Coalition. (The volunteer coordinator had asked for this, yes I do know it’s after Father’s Day.) We decided to fill reusable bags with hygiene products, playing cards, puzzle books and a few sweet treats.
Right in the middle of the park.
Actually, right between the line for food and the line for beverages.
This idea would have been perfect if we were catering to a crowd of moms, dads, small children and the occasional dog walker. This idea was less than perfect when we found ourselves faced with a swarm of homeless people who naturally assumed these were donations for the homeless. Especially since, you know, THEY WERE. They just were, uh, “well, uh, donations for other homeless people that we’re giving later.” I can’t remember a time when I felt more insensitive or socially ignorant.
Fortunately, Melanie’s husband Justin came up with a solution quickly. We relocated our assembly table away from the food and next to the kids’ games and put together bags as quickly as possible with a little help from picnickers and co-host spouses. Once assembled, we hurried the gift bags out of sight and into Jennifer’s car.
Right after we snapped a picture to say “Look! Service! Really!”
With no service project to coordinate, the four of us were left with four hours to fill and not much to do. Unless you count the bubble blowing.
Or the schmoozing with picnickers.
Or the rubbing elbows with Elmo.
Or the collecting donations.
This is my friend Courtney, who I’ve mentioned on this site a few times. She has the biggest heart of anyone I know and she bought boxes and boxes full of stuff to give away. In fact, she went and collected stuff to donate from other people before the picnic. Everyone should have a Courtney in their life.
In addition to Courtney, many of my other friends showed up with their arms full of bags and boxes to cover the donation table with. I want to especially thank my friends Cissa, Faiqa, Adam, Sam, Pam and Shari for dragging your families out into to heat in order to participate in this event. (OK, Adam and Sam didn’t bring families – but still! Heat!) I also have to thank the husbands of the hosts – including my own – for pitching in, doing the heavy lifting, and being extra sociable.
I’d also like to thank God, the Academy, and my manager for believing in me.
According to the Coalition’s calculations, we had collected about $1,000 worth of donations by the end of the day. It was a good, good day, even if it was eye opening in a humbling way.
Although I wasn’t required to write this post, I was paid to help host this event. The mind-numbing details and pictures I’m providing out of the goodness of my heart. You’re welcome!!