This post is part of a series called Life List, all about making and fulfilling a list of things to wrap my life around. You can view my life list in-progress via the link titled “Life List,” next to the “Home” link at the top of the page.

One of my jobs requires a commute to New Jersey twice a week. It’s an easy drive, except for one minor obstacle. Almost every day, there is a homeless man begging along a turn lane that feeds into the on-ramp for I-95. It’s a good spot to be in, because there is a steady flow of traffic in that area throughout the day.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I would find myself sitting in my nice car, waiting for the light to turn green, watching the homeless man take his walk down the line. He holds a cardboard sign that says Homeless & Hungry God Bless written with crooked letters in permanent marker.

People, I never ever ever know what to do in response to homeless people. I had never before confronted it so consistently. Should I give him some coins? There seem to be so many strings attached with giving money. Naturally I want to be sure I’m not just funding a damaging addiction or irresponsible decision. And then there’s the issue of wanting to take them home and give them a place to live, but of course this becomes problematic on a number of levels.

The result of this inner debate is me sitting there, avoiding eye contact, faced with a problem I want desperately to solve but feel powerless to combat even in the smallest degree.

Homelessness, to me, is one of those huge social problems that has so many factors on so many different levels of society and government both causing and perpetuating the problem that as an individual makes me throw up my hands in despair. I can’t begin to fathom a solution and therefore any contribution I could attempt seems, in a word, pointless.

Have you ever heard that cheesy story about a girl and her companion on a beach covered in stranded starfish? The girl persistently picks up a starfish and tosses it back in the ocean. Her companion, hopelessly overwhelmed by the number of stranded creatures, asks why she bothers at all. And the girl, with Christ-like forbearance, says that at least she helped even just one.

Well, that’s great. I’m down with the message of Every One Counts. But that’s not really my problem here.

My problem is more like constantly tossing a starfish back into the ocean with the full knowledge that at some point, maybe even right as you stoop to help another poor soul, the ocean will toss the once-saved starfish back onto the beach. So you toss it back, toss it back again, in this constant game of catch between stranded and safe.

But is that really helping?

I couldn’t see this homeless man two days a week, every week, and do nothing. I still have no answers and, let me be clear, my goal isn’t really to rescue anyone. It’s simply to do what I can, where I am, with what I have.

I began to ask myself some basic questions. What can I do to humanize this forgotten person? What can I do that will make a physical impact or difference in their day? What can I personally give within the limitations of my own time & resources?

My answer to all questions was so basic, it bordered on silly.

Sandwiches.

Thus was created the 100 Lunches goal on my Life List. Every week on Monday and Tuesday, I will make an extra lunch and take it with me on my commute, in the hopes of feeding a homeless man.

This goal filled me with hope and purpose. And then came the day for my first tally mark. 

Life list updates will be posted weekly, on Fridays.

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