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A Promise is a Cloud; Fulfillment is Rain ~ Gift Card Project Final Update

61 McDonald's Gift Cards

Thank you to everyone who supported our gift card project these past few weeks. Our family collected $305 in donations for gift cards. Cathy, the coordinator of the homeless outreach, advised us that $5 increments were best. They could be given out one-by-one or in bundles to families, based on the situation. $305 divided by 5 came to 61 gift cards! That is a lot!

On Friday morning, I made the executive decision to take the kids to school late so they could participate in buying the gift cards. I called ahead to McDonald’s with the warning we’d need a buncha cards. I didn’t want to clog up a register. The manager I spoke to said he’d dedicate a register to our transaction. Yay, McDonald’s! It took about 25 minutes to buy the cards because every card needed a receipt. I wanted to make sure the recipient of the card had proof of purchase in case of computer glitches or other issues. The staff at McDonald’s was quick and friendly.

Combined with other gift cards and certificates for free McDonald’s oatmeal, I estimate there was close to $350 worth of food donated to Denver’s Civic Center homeless community.

16 Tubes of Toothpaste!

A friend, Daria, donated a giant box of toiletry items, including 16 tubes of toothpaste, 8+ toothbrushes, boxes of floss, several bottles of body wash, a dozen bars of soap, feminine hygiene samples, and laundry and dish detergent. Those last two items will be given to the rescue mission, where people have access to laundry facilities.

12 Bottles of Neuro Drinks!

I was approached by Neuro Drinks about reviewing their new line of energy/sports/health drinks. I said yes and shared about the gift card project. Neuro Drinks sent along an extra case for us to share with the homeless community! I will let you know what I think about the drinks in a few days, but for now please know that this company is generous and I’m a fan, for sure.

100 Bags of Popchips!

Through Neuro Drinks, I met an awesome lady representing popchips. They offered to send 100 bags of chips to distribute. I totally said yes, as I adore popchips. I am an even bigger popchips fanatic now. I promise, Neuro and Popchips didn’t donate to get their names on my little blog. They did it because they genuinely cared and have followed up with what went on.

Thank you, Thank You, Thank You, all.


On Saturday, September 17th, the team took the donations to Civic Center Park in Denver. Cathy shared some of their experiences with me in an email. I’m going to share her thoughts and words about the day and of some of the people they met. Also, they didn’t distribute everything on Saturday. They have some gift cards left over, which will be given out a the next outreach event.

Cathy wrote:

The first giftcard I gave was to a homeless guy sitting on the side of the road, right where you turn on to Colfax from I’25. He was young, too young, in his early 20’s, handsome and rugged with his dreadlocks and sunburned face. When he realized it was giftcard to McDonald’s for $5, he rewarded me with a bright smile. We were unable to park in our usual spot on Bannock St. due to some beer festival they were setting up for, so we had to park a few blocks away from Civic Center Park. As we were walking up to the park,
and organizing our lunches and toiletries in our carts, it started to rain a light warm drizzle, it only has rained on us once before, in the 7 years we have done this. I was thinking the rain reminded me of God’s tears for those we were about to meet.

If you don’t live in Colorado, you may not realize how weird and rare it is for rain to fall in September. It hadn’t rained for weeks and weeks until this weekend, especially on Saturday. Our family was caught in the downpour, too, and we talked about how strange it was.

Our group had brought 20 lunches that they packed, so I let them give those out first, because I knew those would run out fast, before I gave out any cards. We found the usual veterans of the homeless world who I gave a couple of gift cards to, anonymous alcoholics and drug addicts fallen on hard times stuck in their addictions, very polite and in a hurry to go. We met two women who I gave 4 gift cards to, their names were Linda and Karen, they weren’t homeless, but a step away from it, they had their two sons waiting for them at home. They had both been laid off their jobs and were trying to go back to school so they could find better paying jobs. Their prayers were for stability and focus because it isn’t easy trying to go back to college and support yourself and a family at the same time.

Not everyone who benefitted from the gift cards and other donations were homeless. Many were one step away or simply having hard times like Linda and Karen. Their story reminded me of a photo blog I read about a family from here in Colorado who were evicted from their rental home. With their worldly possessions on a lawn and nowhere to go, I wonder what happened to them? Where do you go? How do you move your belongings? What do you tell your children?

The Holzhauer Family was suddenly homeless. Maybe they still are. With a 40% drop in your income, what would happen to you?

Cathy continued:

Another homeless man I gave a gift card to was named Jed. Jed was lucky, he had a bike, and 3 or 4 backpacks on his back, and he stopped to load up on our lunches and toiletries. I gave him a card as I sat down to hear his story. He was a loner, with extremely long brown hair that was he was very proud of, probably a drug user, who is an artist, unable to turn the visions off in his head. He stayed away from the missions for safety reasons, and he said it was just safer to be a loner on the streets. I asked if I could pray for him, and went to grab his hand, and he said, “Be careful, that hand has a broken finger”, and I looked down and it was all twisted and crooked. So I grabbed the other hand, and we prayed for him to be able to focus and bring his artistic vision to the world, he wanted to paint the trinity so people could see it, and know it was the Word of God. His vision was to bring the World of God alive with his paintings and I wish you could hear and see his passion. Tears came to his eyes when he talked about how he wanted people to see his paintings, because when people looked at him, they looked at him in disgust like he was nothing because he was homeless. He wanted those people to see his paintings and know that he was as good as them.

I wish someone could have donated a doctor to our gift fund drive. I wonder if urgent care clinics sell gift cards? They should. Thinking about Jed suffering with something that could have been mended easily with care, his pain lessened, his burden lifted crushes me. Of course, ERs are required to treat all who walk through the door, including the broken fingers of the homeless. But what does it take for a person to muster the will and ability to get through those doors? Can you imagine a life so rough and lonely that a broken finger must be ignored and tolerated?

Then the last two gift cards I gave out were to two teenage boys that will haunt me a long, long, time. Their names were Chris and Andrew and they were both 16 years old. Chris was not homeless, but hanging out and helping his friend Andrew, who was homeless. Andrew told me he had been kicked out of his house 2 weeks ago. He did have a job at a tanning salon, but his eyes, his eyes were just pleading with me to help him. All I could do was give him my last gift card to him and offer to pray. He wanted me to pray, just not with him because he felt awkward, but he loved the idea of me praying for him when I was alone. The look in eyes were full of fear, sadness, and worry, the mother in me wanted to take him home, but of course I couldn’t.

The mother in me. Most of the donations came from women who are mothers. We like to imagine our kids will always be safe, will always be with us until they are old enough to fly the nest. Another friend, Stephanie, shared that her family is helping another homeless ministry called Denver Street Soccer. She shared with me that Denver has the highest rate of homeless teens in the country. A quick look at Denver Street Soccer:

Denver Street Soccer (DSS) was created with the mission of ending homelessness in the Denver area. Through camaraderie, life coaching, and an enthusiasm for the game of soccer, our players are given an opportunity to live meaningful and fulfilling lives with a sense of identity and purpose. Our program is successful in ending homeless because we understand that player accountability is a key component to the program. DSS ensures commitment from its players by requiring each participant to set three, six, and twelve month personal goals and then leverages playing time and participation in return for successful goal setting. The players are also paired with trained, sports-based mentors who help the players achieve their goals both on and off the field. The program is designed to reach all ages and genders, leaving no one person behind.

When caring people are gifted with creativity, people’s lives are changed.

It took a few days to process everything ~ from finding Jeffrey, to dealing with helping our kids, meeting his family, and striking upon this idea to help, somehow. When it was over, when I handed over the gift cards and other donations and drove away. I wept. It was like a burden had been lifted. Awed and grateful, overwhelmed and overcome, I was glad it was over.

But I don’t think it’s over. My kids don’t think it’s over. They asked what was next.

Me, too.

7 comments to A Promise is a Cloud; Fulfillment is Rain ~ Gift Card Project Final Update

  • Shayne

    Gretchen, thank you for posting this. It feels good to give, no matter what. But it is always nice to hear about the impact of your giving. It’s wonderful that your children participated in this too — after all, from the moment Jeffrey was found, the situation impacted your whole family. I am blessed to know you and call you a friend!

  • Amy

    Thank you for sharing this, Gretchen. My heart breaks to hear the stories of all of these people in such desperate need. Andrew’s situation was especially hard to read.

    After reading how a simple $5 McDonald’s gift card could make such an impact, I think I’m going to get a stack of them to carry in my purse. So often, when I encounter a homeless person, I don’t have a single dollar bill in my wallet (I rarely carry cash) and there will be no restaurants in sight. Gift cards are a truly brilliant idea.

    I love that your kiddos are excited about what comes next. You’re clearing doing a wonderful job raising kind and compassionate children.

  • Oh, tears running off onto my
    Pillow. I will be praying for each and every one of these precious people. Thank you for doing this…


  • I am so glad that this worked out so well!!! Well done you guys that wasn’t easy and you did so well, I could stop by and give you all hug for a job well done and thank you for caring so very much!!!

  • I’ve been SOOOOOOOOOOOOO out of it with all of the circumstances at our home lately. Can I still donate?

    • Gretchen von Lifenut

      Rach, I’m not taking donations any more for our gift card drive. But, I encourage you to buy a few to keep in your bag or in your car to give out when you’re approached by people asking for money. Or, you can give them to anyone who seems to need a day-brightener.

  • oh my goodness Gretchen… this is simply humbling, and heartbreaking… i am going to have to pray really hard on how I can help the homeless here in my town… you are doing God’s work and showing it to your children too… what an amazing thing you have done….

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