It’s lunch time at BrewDog Short North. The Street Thyme food truck is in the parking lot. Cookies from Piece of Cake bakery are on a table nearby. The customers are on the back patio being greeted by Kyle Barger. He asks Ann, who’s sitting at a table with freshly shampooed hair, about her burger.
“Five out of five?”
“No,” she retorts. “More like a seven out of five.”
Smiling, she confesses this is the first meal she’s had since yesterday.
“How are the fries?”
“Twelve out of five.”
Barger’s guests are the homeless men and women of the Short North, and like Ann, he knows most of them by name: Craig, Chuck, Ali, Joseph. The occasion is Make A Day, one of several pop-up events that Barger, the owner of Champion Trading Group, has coordinated through Columbus Make A Day, a charity he recently co-founded to connect with those living on the streets—and to give small business owners like himself, a chance to make someone’s day.
Chuck, wearing an oversized polo, stops Barger to show off his new threads from the clothing table.
“You look good! Are you on the list to get a trim?” asks Barger.
Through donations, generosity, and partnerships, Columbus Make A Day provides a meal, clothing, and haircuts for over 100 people over the course of the afternoon, most of whom will find the event through word of mouth on the streets.
“A lot of times, because we’re a small organization, we’re walking up and down High Street just having conversations with homeless men and women and we tell them about the organization.”
Make A Day started when Barger and his cousin, feeling the need to have a more meaningful impact in their lives, began to interact with people living on the streets.
“We would go to Chipotle for lunch and buy burritos to hand out, and then as we started having conversations with some of the homeless men and women on the street, we realized that just handing somebody a meal doesn’t really do much. Somebody’s going to be hungry again a few hours,” Barger explained. “But a lot of times having that conversation over lunch had a way bigger impact.”
Barger and his cousin met a man living on the streets while also battling colon cancer and decided to spend the day finding him some clothes, buying him ice cream, and talking with him as they fed the squirrels in Goodale Park. Everyone agreed the day had been great, and Barger decided to take the experience a step further: to provide more opportunities for people to engage with homeless persons, and for homeless persons to have a bit more joy in their lives.
At the hairstyling station, a team of stylists from B/Rose Beauty Bar are at work, cutting hair, trimming beards, and chatting away. A man tells me it’s his first haircut in eight months. Not only is the session an emotional lift, but also a help for those looking for work who need to make a good first impression.
“All of our volunteers—we encourage them to sit and have lunch with somebody and connect and learn people’s names and learn their skills to help find them jobs.” The experience has led to some success stories. “We found a guy named Omar who’s a chef, and we got him a job on a food truck. Another guy, Charlie, was an electrician, and we ended up hooking him up with a local construction company as a contractor.”
Barger introduces me to Connie and John, once homeless, who have now found housing, work and a chance to raise their newborn daughter in stability. Barger also has me talk to Ali, who has lost all of his toes to frostbite and tells me he only sleeps 3 to 4 hours a night because of the cold, noise, and discomfort on the streets. Chuck approaches me to talk about how he is fighting the system to find housing.
Despite the stories of hardship and struggle, there is community on the streets. Make A Day volunteers have been touched by stories of selflessness and generosity within the community. But such stories only emerge when people escape the anonymity of the curbside and panhandling, where it’s easy to overlook the homeless as members of communities: the city, the neighborhood, and the community they’ve established amongst themselves.
“People are surprisingly really good to each other.” Barger indicates Ali. “If he’s got an extra pair of shoes, he already knows someone who needs them. So he’s already taken them to one of his friends in need.”
Barger checks in with the lunch guests again, asking if there’s anything anyone needs.
“A million dollars,” someone shouts out. Another guest insists that Barger doesn’t have a million dollars “because he spends it all on us.”
As Make A Day wraps up, some the guests help clean up, sweeping up the area and packing up materials, a final statement about the desire to work and to be useful. Chuck heads back to the camp where his cot is. He hasn’t made it through the housing system yet, but he’s been able to talk about his frustrations over lunch, as anyone else might. He takes a bit of food with him for the raccoon he’s befriended, and laughs as he looks forward to seeing the animal’s shenanigans.
Because in the end, everyone feels better when they have the opportunity to give.•