A Birthday Party at a Homeless Shelter

estimated read time: 2 minutes

I’ve been arguing with myself all evening about writing this post. I’m always, always, always afraid of saying something stupid/offensive/ignorant, particularly when it comes to issues of social justice. But then I decided that if we don’t talk about stuff, nothing’s going to get better. So, here I am: Talking.

Homelessness makes me angry, and I try to give my time and financial resources to organizations that are trying to end it and/or return dignity to individuals and families experiencing it. So when a Facebook friend asked if anyone might like to join her in throwing a birthday party for some kids at a shelter in the city, I told her I’d love to be involved. I thought it would be great.

Well, today was the party. And it was not great.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. There were pieces of it that were great. But even as I hugged kids who reached their arms up to me, and even as I sat on the floor and played silly games, and even as punched straws into Capri Sun pouches, I felt a whole lot of … ick.

Why? Because every volunteer who was there to help throw the party was white, and every child and mother who attended the party was Black.

I kept thinking—and I’m just trying to keep it 100% here—I kept thinking, “What the hell is happening here? Do we think we’re some kind of white cavalry riding in to make it all better for these poor, poor Black kids via cupcakes and party favors?” Because that’s exactly what it felt like from the moment the first kid arrived—like we were swooping in to save the day because they couldn’t save the day for themselves.

Except those kids didn’t seem to give a rip what color our skin is. And neither did their moms. So what does it say about me that the whole white cavalry thought even entered my mind? <—- This makes me nauseous.

And when I wasn’t feeling icky about that, I was reeling, yet again, over the extreme economic disparity that seems to stem from nothing at all except race. It’s despicable.

Is there any harm in throwing a birthday party for a kid who might not otherwise have one? Probably not. Unless that’s all we do. Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out why a birthday-party-throwing organization even has to exist? Shouldn’t we be doing something about that?

But that’s a big, mean problem to solve, and it involves difficult, honest conversations.


I don’t have a clever wrap-up for this post. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say. I just wanted to talk it through a little. I welcome your comments. Let’s talk, for God’s sake. Okay?