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Something happened to us and it was a first. We had asked for cups and towels for Harbor House and thanks to the wonderful parishioners at Church of the Blessed Sacrament, we received several. After delivering the items, we received more towels, but they weren't really in the condition for the shelters to get much use out of. However, we did not want to throw them away. We felt an obligation to put these old towels to good use. After all, that is what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul does; we take items and find the best place possible for them.
As time went on, the towel pile grew and no really great idea had come to any of our minds. One hot afternoon, a member of SVdP was stopped at a red light in downtown Wichita. Like all of us do, we tend to check our phones or look around and find something to stare at until the light turns green. Crossing the street was a homeless man carrying what appeared to be all his belongings on his back. His skin was flushed and he was sweating. The parishioner wished she could have passed something out her window to help the man cool off. A hat, or refreshing bottle of water would have been ideal. Or, what about a wash cloth soaked in ice, cold water? Maybe that is what should be done with the towels we have accumulated.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is known for being very diverse in the programs we support and offer, but this is one thing we have never done. The idea of standing around in downtown Wichita handing out ice cold towels is almost a comical picture. Is this something that is needed? Would it be appreciated? Would we look like idiots hanging out with our coolers full of water and towels? Many times you can't get the answer to something until you try it.  So, we decided to do just that, give it a chance.
On occasion, we join forces with a group called Friends of Friends. They provide a meal every Sunday to approximately 150-200 homeless or poverty level people living in Wichita. We have provided meals among other donated items for the people that gather every Sunday afternoon. The line for the meal can get long;  we figured this would probably be the best time to hand out the towels.
On a Sunday in August, it was predicted to be close to 100 degrees. We figured this would be a good day to fill up the coolers and hit the parks. We had 200 towels ready to be soaked and handed out. We thought we would maybe have 50 people actually want the towels and we would be finished within an hour; we were wrong. It was almost embarrassing how thankful people were. We saw mother's putting the cold cloths on their children and men and women lined up to get “their own” ice cold relief. Our doubts quickly faded as we tried to replenish the coolers as fast as possible. Word spread fast and soon many were coming to us asking if we were the people with the ice cloths. One woman placed the freezing wash rag on her dog before putting it on her own neck. She wanted to make sure her best friend was taken care of. We saw grown adults turn into children within a matter of minutes as they chased each other, putting ice down backs and squeezing water over each other's heads. These people, who are either a victim of poor decision making or circumstances, were laughing and for a brief moment in time had a break from their harsh daily reality. As we looked around at the chaotic water fights and the people waiting in line with towels draped over their heads, we noticed a few of the homeless hiding behind cars and trees; they were using the cloths to bathe.
Never in a million years did we foresee the different reactions or realize how something so simple could turn into such a luxury. Oddly enough, I think the two volunteers passing out the wash cloths got more out of it than the recipients. It is not every day you get to experience such gratitude and see so many smiles all because of ice water and wash cloths.  

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