An ‘Under the Bridge’ Christmas for Homeless

By Stan Friedman

PORTLAND, OR (December 30, 2011) – Shari, a homeless woman who is roughly 50 years of age, thanked the two young girls who had just nervously painted her nails and told them, “I feel like a princess.”

The girls, 10-year-old Emile and 7-year-old Anna, had not known how to respond to Shari when they first met her. The girls had never met anyone like her, and it was obvious Shari’s life had not been anything like that of a princess. She told the girls and their mother, Sandra Hoppenrath, that the streets of Portland had recently become her refuge when she left a man who had shot her.

She was among the more than 500 people ministered to during the Christmas Festival for the Homeless. Thirty members of the newly planted Kaleo Covenant Church were among the several hundred volunteers that assisted NCompass, a nonprofit organization, in conducting its third annual festival.

When the volunteers arrived to the designated location underneath the Morrison Street Bridge in downtown Portland, several hundred people already were lined up along the banks of the Willamette River, says Sandra.

The volunteers gave away sleeping bags, coats, boots and other clothing and offered to give massages. They also played games with the guests and grilled food. One volunteer even turned to Facebook to find a crib for the one-year-old of a mother who had come to get boots and a coat for the child.

“There were lines everywhere,” says Sandra. “There was a line for food and sleeping bags, a line for clothes, a line for toiletries and undergarments and yet the line for the ‘need prayer’ station was non-existent.”

The lack of a formal line for prayer just meant the volunteers would do even more to interact with the guests individually and offer prayer if it was desired.

“Some people gushed their thanks and appreciation,” says Sandra. “Some were sullen and withdrawn, belligerent even.”

Just as the guests responded differently to the ministry, Sandra also experienced mixed emotions. “I fought the desire to protect my children from what they were seeing versus making sure they watch and learn,” she explains.

“As a parent I want to keep them safe from harm, guarding their eyes from unsightly scenes, covering their ears from swearing and yelling individuals,” she adds. “Yet, maybe seeing these things at a young age will break their heart for others.”

Serving at the festival also was a reminder to Sandra and other adults that like the people whom they served, Jesus was an outsider. He also came to share his love with those that proper society considered misfits.

He did so knowing that some would respond with gratitude and others would not. Shari says it was important that the people gathered under the bridge understand that the love of Christ continues to be extended them.

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  1. “Yet, maybe seeing these things at a young age will break their heart for others.”

    What a wise parent. What a powerful story. It broke my heart again!

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