Last summer, when Amanda left her abusive husband—emotions as raw as a freshly opened wound—she walked away from her life as a middle-class housewife and businesswoman. Her four children, a van and some clothing, were the only things she carried as she added herself to our nation’s homeless statistics.
She and the kids wended their way across country, one dusty farm town after another. The warm weather cooperated and the relief from her marital oppression made the journey a fun and scary time.
As fall was approaching, reality set in.
They’d landed in another highway town—poverty with a view—deep in the heart of agriculture. A couple small grocery stores, tractor dealers, hardware, a movie theater, all the basic shopping was interspersed between boarded-up and abandoned buildings. As a community, it was hardly noticed by the world as it passed by on the way to somewhere else.
“How will I tell my five year old twins that we have no place to celebrate their birthday?” she asked her new acquaintances, also members of the recently homeless.
An overheard conversation lead to some volunteered chicken for the barbeque. This turned into other conversations that brought out hamburgers, steak, pork and beans, comic and coloring books, sidewalk chalk, squirt guns and all the fixings that make a great party for youngsters.
Before the end of the big day, a dozen children played, drew and squirted each other into fits of hilarity and thirty adults laughed, chatted and ate themselves into a stupor.
After dark, Amanda gathered her brood and, holding hands with her sleepy twins, made their way home to their van. There, they spent another night.
The next days were busy ones for her. Outside of her regular duties of making sure the kids felt like they had a home—a place where they were safe, fed and accepted—she’d been thinking.
“If we’re going to say this is our home, our community,” she told her youngsters, “what are we going to do to make it better?”
She collected donations of food and began fixing two meals a day for hungry people in the town park. When people asked her how she did it, she replied:
“Look at what Martin Luther King did…he was only one person and all he had was a dream!”
Amanda was relentless in collecting food donations. At one point, she gathered her kids and drove her van out to a potato farmer’s field, gleaning just over a half ton of un-harvested spuds for hungry people.
“When you see someone who’s hungry, look them in the eye,” she’d tell anyone who was listening, “acknowledge them and it’ll make their day, how hard is it to be kind?”
As winter weather broke over her tiny farm town, Amanda, still unaffiliated with any government or private organization, changed her feeding schedule to once a day and moved it inside a donated room.
By now, Amanda was collecting a following in her rigorous feeding schedule: one formerly homeless woman—who was living with her husband and two children on just over $750 per month—volunteered to donate the food and cook for two dinners each week.
As the teeth of this high desert winter settle over farm country, Amanda steps outside in the freezing weather to grab a smoke with friends after the evening meal in her makeshift community kitchen. For the length of a cigarette, there’s a lot of laughing, joking and sharing of stories.
Suddenly, the building door swings open throwing a shaft of light onto the parking lot. Out walks one of her dinner guests. Dressed in layers and layers of warm and protective clothing, he pauses for a deep breath while looking around. Then, he sets off into the frigid night with a slightly overstuffed and roly-poly waddle.
“Decency is so simple,” Amanda says to her friends.
She smiles to herself, knowing the homeless man will sleep with a full stomach in regular abode, a public restroom, for the night. Then she puts out her cigarette and goes back inside for the cleanup.
Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. He hopes your holidays and bed were warm. For those interested in more stories of the rural, American West, check… Dusty Dog Cafe