We pulled into the library parking lot last Saturday morning.
As we got out of her CRV, I asked my friend, D., “How did you start doing this?”
“I saw it on the Internet,” she said. “The first time we were going to tie hats and gloves to poles around downtown, but people came from everywhere and we didn’t have time to tie them. So now I just bring a bag.”
She pulled a large black tote bag from the back of her car and locked it. Then we slowly walked across the lot toward three men who were waiting next to the parking lot, outside the church where they would soon serve lunch.
A tall heavy-set white guy with a beard stood on the curb smoking. Another smaller white man and a black man about the same height, all around forty, leaned against the brick wall. All were dressed in jeans, winter jackets zipped tight against the cold, hats pulled over their ears.
My friend called, “Hello.”
Smoking man called back, “Hello, how are you?”
“Good,” D. said. “I have some hats and gloves here. Is there anything you need?”
She slipped a strap off her shoulder to show him what was in the bag.
“Take whatever you want.”
Smoking man showed us a hole in one finger of his gloves and selected a stretchy pair of gloves to layer over them. Once the other guys saw what she had, one approached and took a pair of gloves.
Both men called, “Thank you!” as we moved away.
“Could you use a pair?” my friend asked the remaining guy.
“No, I’m good,” the man said without moving.
Smoking guy tried to get us to stay to chat, with a story about his brother getting hit by lightning and blown apart. We made sympathetic noises, but went on our way.
We wandered down the sidewalk toward the library and a group of about ten people standing near the entrance. Again my friend called out a greeting and approached the first person who answered.
A slender young man with prominent cheek bones peered into the bag.
“Looks like mostly girly things,” he said.
“Dig down,” D. said. “There are some guy things down in there.”
“Hey, you have socks,” he said. “Can I have a pair?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Thank YOU!” he said. “I can really use these.”
Once the other guys heard she had socks, several stepped forward and took a pair. A few took gloves. All thanked us. No one took more than one or two items.
“Could you use something?” I asked a young woman in a wheelchair, with various bags strapped to it.
“No thanks,” she said. “I just need my dad to pick me up. Dad, where are you!”
Meanwhile D. was talking to Slender Guy again. He asked if his girl friend could have something.
“Of course,” she said.
We headed into the library.
“Now we walk around the outside wall,” D. said.
As we walked around we nodded and smiled at anyone who made eye contact. Looking around I saw an older man sitting reading on a tablet, a girl reading with someone who could be her grandma, a few scattered people searching the shelves. A young woman, brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, came out of a side room to greet us. She was taking a pair of gloves when Slender Guy walked up.
“Oh, is this your girlfriend?” D. asked.
Slender Guy nodded shyly and they walked off holding hands. “Thanks!” they called back.
We came around a corner to a seating area with orange vinyl chairs and a couch. Five guys, anywhere from twenty to sixty, were sitting around. All the men were still wrapped up tight, hats on, coats zipped. A couple had small bags nearby. When D. greeted them, they seemed to know why she was there. A man about sixty with his back to the window spoke up first, but the others soon accepted our Invitation. After every pair of socks, each one looked my friend in the eye and said, “Thank you.” The manner was casual, but the thanks was sincere.
We continued around, stopping once or twice more before heading outside.
“So socks is the biggest need?” I asked.
“Yes, socks is big, but it all depends on the day. I have coats in the back of the car too, and some shoes. You never know.”
“Are there mostly men?”
“No, there’s usually more of a mix. A couple of weeks ago there were a lot of kids,” D. said.
I thought about the people standing in the cold for a meal, grateful for a single pair of socks, taking no more than they absolutely needed. I thought about children with cold hands and parents who wanted to but couldn’t give their kids what they need. I thought about the smiles and the thank yous for something so small.
As we got in the car, I turned to D.
“Next week,” I said, “I want to come back.”