A Man Named Dropleaf
-Dr. Cris Taylor
I came to the Upper Room in April of 2014. In July of the same year I received a phone call from a gentleman who said – “May I ask you something?”
"Shoot," I responded to the caller.
He told me his name (For our purpose, I'll call him Henry) and he told me who he was. I think he wanted me to know he was serious about his request. I'll just tell you that he is a friend of mine now, four years later, and he is a high level executive in the city and you would probably recognize his name and position.
"I just bought a new Mercedes" he said, and I stopped at the donut shop to pick up a half-dozen donuts for work. As I was driving my new car for the first time, heading down Peach Street, I noticed a young man sitting outside a store on the curb. He was unshaven, about 30 years old, had a ragged pea coat on, and had a black garbage bag next to him. I pulled in to the parking lot in my new car, got out, and asked him...
"Are you okay? My name is Henry, what's your's? When is the last time you had something to eat?" The man replied "DropLeaf."
Henry then asked me - Do you have any idea who he is?
Yes, I replied. He comes to The Upper Room.
(Along with a hundred other men and women who come every single day of the year)
"Well, I handed him a $20.00 bill,"Henry told me. "And that's part of my question - should I have dome that?"
I thought of the questions we all ask when confronted with a panhandler or situation like this. And the conclusions we often make on the spot. Like
IS he just going to use the money for drugs?
Am I being scammed?
Why can't he clean himself up and get a job of his own?
Don't we have food stamps and welfare for people like this?
I had to think before I answered Henry's question.
In Judaism it is said that God commands, “Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, clothe him and do not ignore your own kin” (Isaiah 58:7). Jewish teachings accentuate this lesson, teaching that all needy people should be given food and shelter, no matter if they are friends or strangers (Leviticus 25:35).
It is further described in Muslim texts that only those who have forgotten their prayer would not urge the donation of food to those in need (107:1-7). The large number of soup kitchens found in Muslim communities attests to the importance of beneficence (Singer 2006).
In Christian doctrine, giving aid to the hungry, needy, and marginalized distinguishes between those who are saved and those who are condemned (Matthew 25:34- 40; Luke 6:20 New International Version). Individuals who show concern for the poor will be rewarded in the afterlife for their generous acts (Luke 6:20). Helping the poor is also seen as indicative of an individual’s devotion (Acts 2:45).
In teaching of Buddah, When giving, a person should not perform charity as an act of his body alone, but with his heart and mind as well. There must be joy in every act of giving. A distinction can be made between giving as a normal act of generosity and dana. In the normal act of generosity a person gives out of compassion and kindness when he realizes that someone else is in need of help, and he is in the position to offer the help. When a person performs dana, he gives as a means of cultivating charity as a virtue and of reducing his own selfishness and craving.
I thought about my answer for a moment, my answer for Henry, who waited on the phone. Rather than a direct answer I asked him .... How did it make you feel, Henry?
He told me he felt good about it, but he didn't know for sure what the homeless man named Dropleaf was going to do with the money.
I asked him....does it matter?
You see, it's our judgment that we put forth when we worry what the poor man is going to do with what we give. Our pride demands we receive value for our donation, after all we worked for it and now we are giving it away.
But it's our pride that gets in the way. Because it doesn't matter what the homeless man does with the money.
And, what about this character named Dropleaf? Turns out, when Dropleaf was a child, he lived in a foster home with four other children. His natural mother was in prison for multiple arrests for drug use and prostitution. He had no idea who his natural father was.
Research tells us that we are social beings. This means we need each other to survive in a healthy productive way. Dropleaf, along with as many as 3.5 million other homeless individuals across the United States (HUD, 2016) have the cards stacked against them.
When he was five, he was adopted. When he was 8 years old, his step father, an abusive alcoholic himself, was dissatisfied with dinner one evening and slammed the kitchen table with his fists. The leaf of the table broke and hit the boy in his head. He spent three weeks in the hospital, and the first few days were touch and go as to whether he would live or not. Thus, from that day, the kids called him Dropleaf, and it sticks to this day.
One thing Dropleaf can have, however, is hope, and we can help with this.
A researcher at Berkley conducted a meta-analysis and found “When we’re excited about ‘what’s next,’ we invest more in our daily life, and we can see beyond current challenges.”
And he talked about "HOPE". Hope can be distinguished from other terms, like optimism, for example. Optimism is an attitude - you think your future will be better than today. BUT Hope is both the belief in a better future, AND the actions to make that belief happen.
Dropleaf did not have parents to model for him. My goal at The Upper Room is to model, however late in life it is for people like Dropleaf. You can be a part of that.
And our hope is Dropleaf gets a hot meal with the money Henry gives him. But maybe Dropleaf buys a bag of heroin, or a bottle of vodka. We'll never know. Yet for Henry...the point is he did what was right, and not just what was right from an altruistic standpoint, one person to another, but from a spiritual standpoint, what makes us human, what gives us integrity, and more so, what allows us to pass dignity and integrity to another person in need.
Two weeks later I was sitting in my office at the Upper Room and the phone rang. It was Henry again. I thought to myself - I need to get to know this fellow named Henry.
He ran across Dropleaf again wandering upper Peach Street. This time, he pulled over and asked Dropleaf if he had a place to sleep.
"Here and there" Dropleaf answered. This is Code for the woods, or an abandoned car, or at best some one's wooden floor in a run down apartment.
Henry went into The Erie Sports store and bought Dropleaf a new sleeping bag. He bought him a pair of new blue jeans, and a warm raincoat. Then, he again gave him money for a meal.
"Well, I did it again" he told me over the phone, as he related his actions to me. How do you feel Henry? I asked him.
I feel really good about it. he replied. It feels good to give and I hope Dropleaf benefits from my gifts.
The Upper Room distributes blankets, thousands of them, Winter coats, winter boots, jeans, pants, razors and deodorants, sneakers, and thousands of pairs of socks for free to more than 45,000 who visit us each year. Like Henry, it makes us feel good. And like the teachings of our philosophers and spiritual leaders throughout history, we are told it is the right thing to do.
The Upper Room serves thousands of cups of coffee each year, helps women as well as men with personal items, and referrals to counseling, mental health services, and medical services every day.
We receive no government funding; only the donations from whom we see as the Good Samaritans of today.
Since the first call I received from Henry almost four years ago, we have become close friends. From helping to sponsor a Christmas party with gifts for the homeless (More than 200 attend each year), to summer picnics, to serving as their place to get mail. Henry now helps the Upper Room, not only because it makes him feel good; makes him feel "Right", BUT because it is right.
It’s hard to be a Samaritan, but you and I can be like the “Good Samaritan.” We can be people who take a chance when others turn their heads and hope the problem will go away. It’s our job to stop and help the injured, the poor, the man or woman in need, because if we do not, maybe no one else will. Be that person willing to stop on a lonely road to help someone that needs help, when no one else stops, when everyone else is concerned whether a man like Dropleaf will use the money we give him for drugs, or for food.
You can trust The Upper Room as a way to give help. Not everyone has an experience like Henry did, but the Upper Room will Stand in The Gap for You. The Upper Room will make sure people like Dropleaf have proper referral for medical and mental health services, appropriate directives to meals, help with living accommodations, a fresh coat or pair of winter boots, or just a safe warm place to be inside and out of the bitter Erie cold this winter. Together, we can dignify being human in a world that often seems less than compassionate, less than caring, less than human.
And don't let it end here. We need you to partner with us, to join with us. Because it is the right thing to do.
Cody once had a good job in the construction business. He was laid off, then the company he worked for went bankrupt. He collected unemployment for a while, but that ran out. Cody turned to heroin. Yes, it was a bad choice, but it happened. Besides, that’s in the past and nobody can change that now. We, at The Upper Room understand people make bad choices, but the consequences of their choices can sometimes result in devastating disease; in Cody’s case - addiction. The Upper Room is not an addiction counseling center, but we referred Cody to a program where he might begin to face his demons and recover without relapse. In the process, The Upper Room provided Cody with a safe and welcoming place each day, a place to rest, recover, and learn how to begin to make better choices.