This story is fiction, but it is based on real circumstances of many children in the United States and around the world who are forced to live on the streets. Mentioned is Covenant House, a place where children in New York City can go to for safety, medical care, help with getting job training, etc. The Covenant House organization assisted more that 500,000 children and has now expanded to fourteen more cities in the United States as well as Canada and Latin America.
It was snowing lightly. A few Christmas lights twinkled from a storefront. Thirteen-year-old Tyrone saw the van coming down the street. Other kids had told him about this van. It came from Covenant House, a place that helped kids who were in trouble, kids who lived on the streets, kids who were runaways.
Well, he fit those descriptions. When his mother died, Tyrone had gone to live with his aunt. One of her friends was a man who often came to visit. But he was no friend to Tyrone. In fact, sometimes he hurt Tyrone. Tyrone never knew what to expect. He told his aunt, but she said, “If you don’t like it here, you don’t have to stay.”
So Tyrone left, with very little money, no luggage, no place to go, and no plan. After a few nights of sleeping in a bus station, he found some kids who lived in an abandoned building. There was glass on the floor beneath broken windows, and it was always cold. Cockroaches and rats scurried about. Some of the older kids tired to hurt the younger kids. Usually everybody was at least a little hungry.
One kid said that there was always food in the Covenant House van. Another said you could trust the people who drove the van. Tyrone didn’t know whom he could trust.
Snow was falling down the back of his neck now. Tyrone pulled the collar of his jacket up as the van came closer. His stomach rumbled, but the fear in his stomach grew stronger than the hunger. He wouldn’t get inside the van. If they were willing to give him food outside the van, great. Otherwise, forget it.
The van stopped and a woman got out. “Hi,” she said. “My name is Keshia. I’m from Covenant House. I’ve got some sandwiches in the van. Want some?”
Tyrone looked at her. He backed up a few steps. “I’m kind of hungry,” he said quietly. He shivered a little.
“I’ve got some hot chocolate, too,” she offered. “You could get warm in the van.”
“No,” Tyrone said, turning to leave.
“I’ll bring them out here then,” she called after him. He stopped.
Soon he had eaten three sandwiches and drank two cups of steaming hot chocolate while standing several feet from the van.
“Maybe I’ll see you another time,” Keshia said. “I usually drive around here, and I always have food.”
Tyrone didn’t say anything. He stepped back into the shadow of a building as the van left. He was still cold, and he wasn’t sure if he would go back to sleep in the old building but at least he wasn’t hungry.
Tyrone let a week pass before he looked for the van again. After that, he became sort of a regular, getting a meal a few times a week from the people who drove the Covenant House van. Besides Keshia, there were Jack and Miguel. They talked with him, shared some laughs, and gave him a card with the Covenant House number on it. He told him his first name. Still, he would not enter the van. He couldn’t be sure there wasn’t some trick.
As Christmas drew closer, the weather grew colder. Tyrone walked down the street, hunched over in the wind. His head hurt, and so did his throat. He thought he might have a fever. Maybe tonight he would sleep in the bus station. He sat down on a bus stop bench and tucked his legs under him to warm his feet a little. A nearby store was blaring Christmas carols, and the song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” came on. Tyrone wiped his nose on his sleeve and waited for the Covenant House sandwiches.
Just then, the van rounded the corner. “My ride’s here,” Tyrone said.
He jumped up and waved to the van. It pulled up and the man fled into the darkness. Tyrone did not wait for Keshia to get out but jumped into the van.
“Tyrone, did that man hurt you?” Keshia asked quickly.
Tyrone shook his head. “Didn’t have a chance,” he said. He was shivering all over and it was not just from cold.
“That was a narrow escape, my friend,” Jack said. “Why don’t you ride around with us for a while until we’re sure that guy is gone?”
Tyrone could only nod because his mouth was full of sandwich. Miguel was at the wheel and pulled away from the curb. Tyrone sipped the chocolate, his throat burning and his head pounding. Slowly his feet began to tingle and ache as the heat in the van warmed him. Still, he felt more comfortable than he had in months.
And he felt safe. After finishing his food, he put his head back a little and half-closed his eyes.
“A kid never deserves to be hurt, or homeless or hungry,” Miguel said as he drove.
Tyrone remained silent, but he was listening.
“At Covenant House, there are lots of ways kids get help, depending on their age and situation,” Jack said.
After a few minutes of silence, Tyrone said, “Take me there. Please.”
“We’re on our way,” Miguel said, and turned a corner. He flipped on the radio.
“O holy night?” a Christmas carol came over the radio.