Fifteen middle-schoolers spread out across downtown Austin Monday morning on a scavenger hunt designed to help them form camaraderie as they answered historical questions about their hometown. But some of the answers they found went much deeper than the date the first bell tolled at St. Mary’s Cathedral, or the identity of an African-American who survived the Alamo.
This was Middle School Mission Camp, a day camp that allowed our young teens to go out into the community to serve the elderly, the homeless, and the hungry. To launch that theme, we asked each camper to bring an extra lunch to give away on the street that morning to someone who might need it. The kids hit the streets in groups of three or four led by an adult.
The first girl in my group got only as far as the Omni Hotel when she spotted a man with a backpack leaning against the hotel planter. Eagerly she reached into her backpack, pulled out the extra sack lunch and said, “Here, sir, I have some extra snack today and thought you might like it.”
“God bless you, young lady,” the man said as he eagerly peered into the sack. “But do you have food for yourself?”
Nearly an hour later, the boy in my group handed a tub of Cheerios and a granola bar to a man sitting at a bus stop on Congress Avenue near the Capitol. Once again the man said, “God bless you, son. You are a good person and I will enjoy this.”
The third teen squirmed a bit anxiously. “I’m a little shy about going up and talking to strangers,” she said. “I’m having a hard time doing this.”
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “You’ll know when the moment is right.”
We walked into the square across from today’s Capitol, which held the foundation stones from the original Capitol that burned decades ago. A neighbor slept deeply on an iron bench, using a tennis shoe as his pillow. It hit everyone at once.
The St. David’s youth quietly set her sack lunch on the ground next to the sleeping man’s bench. She beamed, and her relief was palpable. “I’m hoping he’ll wake up,” she said, “and be happy to see what someone left for him.”
The right moment had come to learn that all of us – exuberant or shy – can help our neighbors and make the world a better place.