Black Friday and homelessness

This year I went to my first Black Friday sale. Like many others, I showed up in the wee hours of the night to wait in line. I had expected my subsequent blog post would be about the camaraderie I felt with these strangers as we all waited in line for cheap stuff. However, my experience was much more profound.

My friend and I showed up a bit past midnight and the store opened at 5am. Only five measly hours outside in Southern California, no worries. I knew it was a bit chilly, so I wore a t-shirt, a long-sleeved tee, and a sweatshirt. On the bottom I had sweatpants and knee-highs. That should be enough, I thought, it is California and Californians rarely don a heavy jacket.

About a half-hour into our wait, my friend could no longer hold her book steady because her hands were shaking so violently from the cold. I pulled up my hood and slipped on a second sweatshirt, promptly pulling that hood up over my head, too. A half hour later, I put on my gloves, pulled a second pair of socks out of the gym bag in my car, and put on my heavier tennies. I had a pain in my feet so severe I could barely stand it. I don't think my tootsies have ever been so cold. And, despite the four layers of clothes I had on top, I felt like I was only wearing a tank top.

I began to think about the poor folks who have no choice but to sleep outside every night. Sure, one would think it's easier to be homeless in Los Angeles than Chicago, but even the West Coast is no picnic if you're forced to find warmth where none exists. In my mere five hours outside, all my layers of clothes were useless in taking the chill from my bones. What I needed was a heavy coat and some really good insulated boots. Then came my "A-ha!" moment.

This holiday season, I will no longer just be donating money to my favorite charities. I will be going through my closet to pull out all the coats and boots that sit there year after year, waiting for a ski vacation. I will be asking my friends and family to do the same. In addition to taking the majority of the items to my local homeless shelter, I will also throw some in the trunk of my car to give to anyone I happen to see in need. Since I also have a soft spot for animals, I'm going to donate some doggie sweaters and jackets as well, since so many homeless people have canine companions.

Today, as the holiday season is in full swing, I'm most grateful for the roof over my head and the walls that keep the cold at bay. And, after my five hours outside in the chilly, winter night, the new 32" TV I snagged doesn't seem nearly as important.


  1. UPDATE 12/8/09:

    I just discovered that Burlington Coat Factory is sponsoring a coat drive (great minds think alike, eh?). Donations will be accepted through January 15, 2010 at any Burlington store. AND, make your donation before December 24, and you'll get a 10% discount on any purchase.

    Here's the link for more details:

  2. As long as we're on the topic, here is a great list of 35 Ways to Help the Homeless:

  3. As long as we're on the topic, here is a great list of 35 Ways to Help the Homeless:

  4. Amber, a friend of mine did a challenge on Facebook to name something you are thankful for as your status everyday on Facebook. I accepted that challenge and it has caused me to be reflective and thoughtful. I borrowed your line "I'm most grateful for the roof over my head and the walls that keep the cold at bay." I gave your credit and asked them to read your blog. This is what the season is all about. Thanks and giving.

  5. Jeanie: What a wonderful challenge that is! I love it!

    Thanks for crediting my line and recommending my blog. I appreciate that. Sometimes we all just need to slow down and concentrate on what really matters, don't we? It's all really pretty simple if we let it be ;->

    Thanks for your great comment, Jeanie. As my friend Jeff would say, #Gr8ful4U

  6. thanks so much for this awesome post

  7. I want to say something like "amazing post". I just cannot find the words to I want to you. Thank you for recognizing the hardships of others and taking the actions to assist. 

  8. Imagine what it is like for the homeless in Canada.
    Angela Day
    Calgary, Canada

  9. Thank YOU for all the great work you do to raise awareness about homelessness, Mark!

  10. Thanks so much for the nice comment and for reading, Susan! A pleasure to meet you!

  11. I used to be a reporter in Anchorage. Unfortunately, I know all about the plights of those outside in harsh weather ;-(


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