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  • I was once a stingy man, wrapped in a cocoon of self absorption. Clinging to my time as if it were a possession of mine. Letting money and the life at night control my life. A second thought was rarely spent on something or somebody who I couldn't use to benefit me.

    On a night just like any other I was arrested and as a result of that arrest I was sentenced to, among other things, 240 hours of community service. The only thing alleviating my distress of the sentence was that it paled in comparison to the financial consequences.

    The Franciscan Outreach Association let me volunteer at their community center doing laundry for the homeless and needy. I was able to come in for about 4 hours a day to do the 10 loads of laundry that were dropped off. Each day I would walk down the street of the trendy Chicago neighborhood in which I lived. Passing by all the beautiful people on a conveniently gentrified street. Stopping by one of the local coffee shops to get a Cafe Americano to go with my cigarettes I smoked on the fire escape while doing the laundry. Then I arrived at the community center with all the homeless sleeping on the stairs and waiting to get buzzed inside to drop off their laundry, desperation painted on their faces like so much woad. Ignoring them as I walked through their ranks in repulsion.

    The laundry room was fit with a table, chair, two washers, two dryers and a wall filled with bags of laundry. A wall 12 feet high and 20 feet long with wooden shelves buried in the studs. The laundry came in all sorts of bags and containers, some having been their for years, never having been picked up. Bags of dirty laundry sat in a line on the floor, ready for wash in the machines. Some bags were decent, smelling of sweat and dirt. Others had fecal matter or urine in the bag, sometimes just the odor remained. These were the treasures of the homeless. All they had to their name save a makeshift bed under I-94 and Division where the sound of traffic was deafening. These stained and fecal ridden clothes were all their worldly possessions.

    Appreciation for the work I was doing began to grow. Being there allowed the full time volunteers to focus on other tasks in the community. The hours I put in were magnified by the amount of help it provided. Hygiene was improved and sickness possibly prevented by cleaning the treasures of the homeless. The appreciation and gratitude when a clean load of laundry was picked up was nearly tangible, aside from the times I was accused of stealing or losing clothes. Gradually, instead of paying for an Americano every day I began donating the money to good causes. Smoking turned into an extra $10 a day after I quit which I was able to put some of that towards making sandwiches to hand out. Seeing how much impact a simple load of laundry had on somebody's life helped me appreciate what I have been given. The selfish way of thinking, about time, money and life, eroded after each load of laundry.

    All in all I spent about 500 hours at the community center, that breaks down to 125 shifts at 4 hours each. Each of those shifts cleaned 10 loads of laundry, add those numbers up and we get 1250 loads of laundry done. I don't expect anybody to go out there and volunteer 500 hours, but let's just think of some of the things we could sacrifice in our daily lives to change the lives of others. What are your treasures?

    Matthew 6:21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
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