The first time my youth group did this, I arranged to meet them under the freeway (since I work in Seattle). When Denny's bus pulled up, all the homeless people came out of the woodwork. My youths jumped out and they'd clearly had some instruction on the way down. Three phone teams went among the homeless, helping them call home. If the family member on the other end agreed to take them in (and sometimes this took 3 or 4 calls over a month) they'd also have to agree to put up half of the money for a bus ticket ($50 or so), to show their investment in this process. It works out that about one person a week gets sent home that way. That doesn't sound like much but over the years, Denny's organization has bought 700 bus tickets!
As an adult, I don't work the phones -- we leave that to the kids (homeless don't get to see fresh-faced optimistic youth every day, it is a treat for them). So I usually stay with the rest of the kids who are handing out the sack lunches. Last time, we ran out of sack lunches and the kids ran back to the bus and got their OWN sack lunches and gave those away too.
On most trips, some poor soul will shuffle up. You can tell they want to say something; their face is full of emotion. Often all that comes out of them is "Thank you. God Bless you." And they cry. And they accept the sack lunch.
When we get on the bus to go back to Snoqualmie, the kids always say the same thing. "David! We should do this ALL THE TIME." I say "I know." And they say "No, really! We're serious, we should do this EVERY WEEK! This is what we're supposed to be doing as Christians!" They are so moved by what they've done and by what they've witnessed. I am glad that they understand at such a young age what it has taken me 25 more years to figure out.
If you are thinking about doing this with your youth group, I highly encourage you to sign up. What you should know:
- If you have little, little ones (like under 12), don't bring them along on this one.
- Bring something to distribute, like sack lunches, or in the winter, warm men's coats or socks or gloves
- Prepare to leave at 5:30ish and be back around 8:30ish.