My husband, Bob, hauled a stack of wool blankets out of the Red Cross Disaster Relief Trailer and set them on the blacktop of the Vancouver Mall parking lot. He was an American Red Cross volunteer and today, he had convinced me to help him empty the trailers of old and unusable supplies. Next, he would restock them with up-to-date supplies for emergencies like earthquakes or wildfires.
I pushed a box toward the trailer door. He caught it and headed outside. A man with a bushy red beard and baseball cap met him at the door. The man grinned. “Where did you get all this stuff?”
Bob explained that we were volunteers for the Red Cross and were preparing the trailers for an emergency.
“Oh, do you need some help? I can work.” The guy shoved his toes deeper into a Croc that looked three sized too small. On his other foot he wore a woman’s loafer.
Bob whispered to me, “I don’t have time to supervise this guy.” His face was troubled. “Worse, he might steal something or get hurt.”
I shrugged. “He looks eager.”
“My name is Joshua. I’m indigent because people won’t let me work. They tell me I’m not doing it right. But I want to work.”
Bob’s face softened. “All right. You can move these boxes from the trailer to the parking lot.”
Joshua worked fast, all the while talking non-stop. It became clear that he had a brain disease when he gestured toward the Vancouver Mall and said, “How did you acquire all this property? You must be very rich.” He looked between us with deep respect.
Bob explained that the stuff didn’t belong to us and that we were just volunteers for the Red Cross. Joshua didn’t get it. “But how does one go about acquiring so much money and influence?” He spoke again about how willing and eager he was to work and earn some money.
My heart grieved. Here was a man who wanted to work, but whose mental health issues probably made it impossible to keep a job. What a dark, difficult time for him. I pictured his mother at home, worried and praying that God would take care of him and said a prayer of my own.
Despite his unusual chatter, Joshua turned out to be a great worker. With his help, we finished ahead of schedule. When we were done, Bob thanked him and told him what a great job he’d done. In response, Joshua said, “I’m starved.”
Bob gestured to a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on the corner. “We’d love to buy you lunch. We’ll meet you over there in our truck in just a few minutes.”
He nodded in agreement and started across the parking lot. After Bob locked the trailers, we got in the drive-through line at Popeyes.
Near the door of the restaurant, we saw Joshua talking with a man in a Popeyes' uniform. The employee, who was built like a refrigerator, looked calm, but we figured that he had been sent to deal with Joshua and send him on his way.
“Excuse me,” Bob called out the truck window and waved the employee over. “That guy’s name is Joshua. He appears to have some mental health issues, but he’s been helping us with the Red Cross trailers and we’re going to buy him a meal.”
The employee nodded. “I understand.” We were surprised when he walked to his car and popped the trunk. He dug around inside his gym bag and carried a pair of athletic shoes across the parking lot. I assumed that his feet were hurting, and it was time for a change.
Instead, he handed his shoes to Joshua and disappeared inside the restaurant. Joshua immediately sat down on the curb and put them on. Judging by his happy face, they must have fit just right.
When we got to the drive-through window, the same employee was there to meet us. As he handed us our food he said, “This one’s on me.”
Bob said, “Wow. I’m so impressed with your generosity. What’s your name?”
“Kendall Vaughn. We’ve all got to help each other out.”
I wanted to know more about who Kendall was and what motivated his generosity. But the line of cars behind us was long and growing. As we pulled away from the window, I hoped our grateful smiles would be able to convey the deep admiration we felt for Kendall’s act of kindness and generosity.
Joshua was waiting just around the corner of the restaurant in his brand-new shoes. He flashed us a smile as he took the food bag and disappeared down the street.
I believe that God wanted to show Joshua a glimpse of His great love during that dark time in his life. Bob had given him the work he wanted so badly. And Kendall had paid him in a brand-new pair of shoes and a meal to fill his empty belly.
Beyond that, Joshua was a link in the chain of Red Cross volunteers whose mission it is to save lives. Someday, his work will provide comfort and hope to people in the event of a disaster. He may even help save a life.