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Good Intentions
Jen Haley's good intentions confront harsh reality on a holiday mission to feed the poor.

By Jen Haley

In New York City, you're forced to shut out a lot of things. Life pushes you forward, and answers are easy on an Ivy League campus.

I said goodbye to my parents and little brother. I was off to live in San Francisco, where I could watch the skies change, where the light stuck to the hills.

And this holiday, I resolved to do two things; teach my parents how to Skype, because I needed their furrowed brows and their smiles and to volunteer my time. Goodness knows, I had plenty of it.

On Thanksgiving, I delivered meals to the poor. My friend marveled that at 8:30 AM we could hand people their last hot meal of the day.

At a Tenderloin hotel, we knocked on doors, greeted with curses. Empty rooms reeked of vomit, urine, pot and that sticky odor of greed borne of desperation. It hung like curtains. I breathed into my neck scarf. Those who answered the door had big eyes, legs like toothpicks. They asked for more; we had to say no. We had a list to follow after all. If people didn't answer, we couldn't leave the meals. The receptionist said they'd be stolen. So we ran back collecting them from doors never open to us.

Residents crowded around our empty boxes, not believing we had run out, accusing us of being unfair. We were. We believed our little mission somehow helped while we drove around in a BMW distributing the rest of our meals through the window. Our knowledge and good intentions weren't even a blip on the radar.  We were scared that people could live that way and think it was normal. Scared that our world was not made of ivory and stone -- but scribbled with crayon and easily torched.

Afterward we went to brunch in Cole Valley and washed our hands in a bathroom not stained with human excrement.

My family finally came through on Skype via my iPhone - all smiles and gentle chiding about California living. They teased me about my long hair and my "hippie" jacket. They're novices, blissfully ignorant. It was all I needed to feel like the most privileged person on Earth.

With a Perspective, I'm Jen Haley.

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