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Talking To Strangers

Story and photos by Cara DeGette

Editor, GPHC

From left, third graders Fiona Wren, William Girard, Dahlia Zimmerman-Voll, and Marion Powers. Above, handing out the bags of provisions downtown.

     Most Sunday mornings, a few Park Hill families from a third grade class at Park Hill Elementary build about 150 PB&J sandwiches, assemble bags of provisions, and head downtown.

They hand the supplies out to people experiencing hunger and homelessness.

The enterprise takes just a couple hours.

One of the organizers, Daniel Weinshenker, who is the dad of Rena, 8, identified other supplies beyond sandwiches that also go into gallon-sized Ziploc bags: bottles of water, bananas, granola bars, dried fruit, chapsticks, hand-warmers, hand sanitizers, lotions, soaps, hand-drawn cards and pictures… “whatever people bring.”

“One of the ideas is that you also should talk to people,” Weinshenker said. “Ask them questions.”

One recent frigid winter Sunday, several families – third graders, siblings and parents – gathered at the Weinshenker’s Park Hill home. As grown-ups assembled the sandwiches, the kids filled the bags. William Girard described his goal for the day: “I just want to be here to help, to give people food and help them survive.”

Added Marion Powers, 9: “Especially this time of year because it’s cold outside.”

Before they headed out, the adults held a little huddle, to brainstorm a few ideas when talking to strangers.

“Try to remember that they are not homeless people, but people experiencing homelessness,” Weinshenker advised. “Just because you are homeless, that’s not the only thing you are.”

The kids thought up a few ice-breakers to try, while handing out the bags:

“What’s your name?”

“What’s your favorite animal?”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“What’s your favorite season?”

“What’s your favorite hobby?”

“Where were you born?

“I really like your smile.” (or your hat, or your coat).

“Do you have a moustache?”

The adults and kids caravanned downtown, to the community center near the Denver Rescue Mission. The bags of provisions were gone within 10 minutes. One street poet, named Wave, recited a poem about love.

“Knowing we did a good thing feels really good,” said Dahlia Zimmerman-Voll, 8, walking back to the car. “Even if it’s just a little thing, I like to help change the world and make it a better world.”

Rena Weinshenker was also pleased. She appreciated the smiles, and the ‘”thank yous,” and the “God bless yous” that people shared.

“I hope someday all these people have homes and wives, and kids and families,” she said.

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