I was headed out for an errand Saturday morning, choosing a route I don't normally take to get there. And at a stoplight, I saw him.
He was tall, dressed in dark clothing, gloves and boots but no coat. Behind him, in a small car, was a beautiful white dog wearing a thin pink sweater. And he had a sign: "Homeless. Cold. Hungry."
I don't know how he got to that moment in his life, but I couldn't ignore him. I pulled some money from my wallet and rolled down my window.
He greeted me very kindly: "Hello, miss. How are you today?"
"I'm OK," I replied. And then, reflexively, "How are you?"
He shrugged. His eyes looked tired and beaten down, and he said, "I've been better."
I don't know why he wasn't at one of our many local shelters on such a cold day. He didn't smell like alcohol. He wasn't missing most of his teeth. And if he was running a scam, then I fell for it — and I don't really care, because that means he's just as mentally ill as anyone else who needs help.
He seemed like he could have been a guy I knew from high school. Or someone I met at a friend's house during a holiday get-together. Or one of my neighbors.
I haven't been able to stop thinking about him and his dog. Where are they now? Have they found safe shelter to survive the dangerously cold weather that's rolling in?
This one man made me appreciate more than just what I have in my life. He made me grateful that I donated to the United Way of the Capital Region through our parent company, Journal Multimedia, for 2014. He made me think about the fact that many people donate time and money during the holiday season, but by February or March, the nonprofits that help such people are sending out news releases, begging for more donations.
We drive away. We forget about them, because seeing them makes us uncomfortable, and we dive right back into our lives.
So to you, the people who work at and sit on the boards of nonprofits such as the Benevolent Association of York, the Salvation Army, Project SHARE, Water Street Ministries and so many others, I'd like to take a moment and say thank you. Thank you so much for what you do. Your job is to make people's lives better — and not many of us can say that.