March 31, 2017

‘God moments’ bless couple who help the homeless

By John Shaughnessy

Karen and Don BeckwithKaren and Don Beckwith remember it as a “God moment”—one of those experiences that “happen out of the blue,” a moment clearly touched by God’s grace.

This one happened on a bitterly cold, snowy night as the Beckwiths prepared to set out to bring soup, sandwiches, blankets, clothes and a sharing of prayers and conversation with homeless people who live on the streets and under the bridges and railroad arches in Indianapolis.

“We usually don’t take out shoes or boots, but at the last minute, I picked up a pair of boots that someone had donated,” Karen recalls. “That night, some guy came up to us. He had on shoes that were at least two sizes too small for him, and there was ice hanging off his shoes and his feet.

“I went and got the boots, and they fit him. There was Don on his hands and knees putting new socks on him and these boots that fit. And the guy was saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.’ We were in tears. That was a God moment for us.”

Since 2004, the couple from St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis has experienced such “God moments” as volunteers for Helping Our Own People (HOOP). And for the past seven years, Don has served as the chairperson of the board of directors for the organization that strives to be “a link to the community for our homeless friends.”

Their efforts have led them to be selected as 2017 Spirit of Service Award recipients by Catholic Charities Indianapolis—an honor they will receive on April 26. Still, the true reward for the Beckwiths is the humbling journey of faith they have taken for the past 13 years.

They still remember the first night they helped on the street—a night when “we drove into places I was scared to death of, places I would never go into the dark,” Karen says.

Yet that night also revealed to them how they could bring some light and life to those areas, and how the people they met could do the same for them.

“I just realized there are people out here who for a number of reasons are not making it in this world on their own—veterans, people with mental health issues, people with addictions,” Don says. “They’re just struggling to make it in this world. We’re giving them soup and sandwiches and blankets. And they encourage us and make us see we need to be the hands and face of Christ to them.”

Karen adds, “It took me a while to understand it wasn’t about handing out the soup and the sandwiches. They wanted to talk about the Colts, the weather, their lives. It’s the human touch that matters to them.”

The Beckwiths insist they are just part of the HOOP team, a team of “100 volunteers who go out to the streets, and another 200 doing things behind the scenes”—including cooking, collecting clothes and making sandwiches.

“We have been blessed so much by so many different people and so many different congregations,” Don says.

Karen notes, “We always say a prayer before we go out, praying that we say the right thing, praying to turn a heart. We have had success stories where someone has found a job or an apartment.”

There are also the continuing God moments, including the time when the couple shared soup, a sandwich, clothes and a conversation with a man. As they left, Don told the man, “God bless you.” The man responded, “Well, I think he just did.”

“A lot of what we do is sorting clothing and storing it,” Karen says. “But when we go out, there’s the appreciation we get, and people want to pray with us and for us. It’s very humbling when you come home and lay in your warm bed. But you also know you’ve made a difference.” †

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