Since Monday, the New York Times has featured a daily article in a series called Invisible Child. The stories, written by Andrea Elliott, chronicle a year in the life of Dasani, one of thousands of homeless children living in New York City. Dasani, along with her six siblings and parents (Chanel and Supreme) occupy a 532 square foot room in one of NYC's worst homeless shelters. Yesterday, in part four, Elliott wrote about Dasani's 12th birthday party. She received no material gifts. However, her mom tried to make the day special for the little girl by presenting Dasani with a beautiful white sheet cake, which Dasani did not know was stolen from a local Pathmark. Later in the evening, a neighborhood teenager, who was flirting with Dasani's uncle, a much older man, gave Dasani a $20. The girl's joy was palpable, even through the written word.
Reading through the articles while vacationing in Orlando, Florida, made Dasani's story especially powerful. Orlando's theme parks, such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World, are teeming with kids who have no clue that children like Dasani exist. While these kids are concerned about getting in line to meet Belle at Disney's Magic Kingdom or line up to ride the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Dasani closely follows city politics, calculating how much more money the family would have to spend on soda if Mayor Bloomberg's soda-size limiting proposal becomes law. At present, one super-size soda is shared among the entire family, but if the proposal had passed, Dasani's family would have faced a significant increase in the cost of soda for the family.
Throughout the week, the articles have become a bit of a devotional for me. If there is a better time of year to reflect on Dasani's life and the lives of the homeless throughout the country and world, I don't know of it. We are bombarded during this season to narrowly think of our own wants and "needs." Yes, we get excited to give presents, but how much of that excitement is rooted in the knowledge that we will get some gifts in return? Jesus encourages us to give with no thought of reward. He encourages us to be blind to a person's outward appearance or material possessions. He encourages us this season to think of the neediest, to reflect on our own blessings, and then to make a difference. And it is not important if the world thinks you are making a big difference or a little difference. To the recipient, the difference will always be big and that is all that is important.
I am writing this blog to spread the story of Dasani and her family. It is dreadfully tragic and reading the articles represents a big commitment of time, but I believe they are rewarding. Even if you can't do something about it this Christmas, this Christmas will still be more meaningful if you come face to face with Dasani's struggle and remember her and others like her as you bask in the blessings of this holiday.
You can find part one of the series at this link.