Neal Lester

‘Tis the season to be grateful

It is so easy to point out challenges and problems and even point fingers of blame at others as we look around and pay close attention to what’s happening in our world – the disappointments, the disagreements, the fights, the incivility and the intolerance.

In fact, between politics, the various –isms and the tragedies that beset us individually and communally, it is easy to forget the moments that renew our faith in humanity.

 On the heels of yet another season of gratefulness and thanks even with the historical genocidal veil that covers this particular coveted national holiday, I thank this neighborhood community for responding so enthusiastically to my ongoing ASU Project Humanities homeless outreach –

From Dr. Angela Christopher’s chiropractor office collecting bottled water, clothing and toiletry donations to my immediate neighbors leaving bags of coats and blankets on my front stoop, to neighbors actually volunteering from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at our every-Friday sorting, the outpouring of participation is so very gratifying. 

It is not uncommon for folks I don’t even know to know me and to have heard about or read about this work to want to participate in some way and no way is too small.

I am especially appreciative of Paul Maryniak and the Ahwatukee Foothills News team for committing to including stories about our Project Humanities work generally and about this homeless outreach more specifically.

We have had investors contact us because of your stories, and the donations of adult clothing, shoes, and toiletries continue because of neighbors who care. I also know that there are those who argue that this five-year homeless outreach is enabling individuals to remain homeless. In fact, one “neighbor” insisted that we not give our sisters and brothers fish but rather teach them how to fish.

I personally don’t know that the clients we support are not learning to fish. What I do know is that whenever this perspective comes my way, I remind the naysayers that there is no surplus on extending respect, kindness and compassion to individuals who so often do not readily receive.

There is enough work for all of us to do without being territorial about the lanes we are riding down.

What makes this work so rewarding for me personally is the fact that it is multi-communal, multi-professional, and inter-generational.

While I may be the coordinator of this effort as an ASU professor – along with the transportation leg of this outreach via Diving Devils Dogs of Arizona – the success of this effort is owed to the many volunteers who sort, transport donations, collect donations and then distribute donations.

 We also thank those who tell others about our work. Those who have over the years participated in this work include Boy Scouts, high school honor societies, churches, international visiting faculty, high school students, community college students, middle school students, fraternities and sororities, families, partners, affinity groups, and organizations and businesses.

Those who join us for the distribution typically come back because they too recognize that homelessness is certainly not an identity but rather a circumstance that could happen to any and every one of us, no matter what our current situations are.

So, I thank those of you who have in any way connected with this effort. I also invite you to join us every other Saturday morning from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. in downtown Phoenix to distribute items to 150 to 200 adults experiencing homelessness. We are on the 12th Avenue sidewalk between Jefferson and Madison.

‘Tis the season to remind all reading and hearing about this outreach, especially now, that it is not seasonal. Housing instability is year-round, and if we can do some small gesture to extend humanity to those so often denied humanity, our individual lives are enriched and enhanced.

Putting homelessness within the context of social injustice, as many do, especially in a capitalist society that has so much, many who participate in this outreach agree that “the more you answer the injustice of others, the more you heal your own soul” (Julia Post).

For details regarding volunteering or making donations, please connect 480-727-7030, or email:

 Neal A. Lester, Phd., is an Ahwatukee resident and the Foundation Professor of English and founding director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University.

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