Sarah Nitta was busy washing dishes when she noticed movement behind her backyard fence. Upon closer inspection she was able to discern a man in a dark hat, and it made her nervous. Who was he, and what he was doing back there? Eventually she saw him lift a tent, and realized he was homeless and setting up a place for himself and his partner to sleep for the night. A night that would reach 19 degrees.
She tried to get on with her evening, but couldn’t stop thinking about the couple in the tent. When it got dark, she sent her husband outside to see if they were still there. Their supplies were, he said, but he received no response when he tried to reach out. “Hello? Anyone there?” Nothing.
Sarah wasn’t convinced, so she packed up the enchiladas she had made for dinner into bags, grabbed a step ladder, and headed outside herself. “I’m not going to lie,” she said. “My heart was racing a little.” She climbed up, called out, and was again met with silence. But Sarah wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Hi,” she said. “I’m just going to drop down some food, okay?” And then, from the darkness. “Thank you so much. We won’t be here long. We’re just trying to get back to Arizona.”
Encouraged by the sound of their voices, she asked if they needed blankets, to which two very eager voices replied, ‘Oh yes. Please!”
By now the temperature was in the twenties.
“When I first went inside I started to look for some dingy old blankets,” she said. “Then I realized how dumb that is. If they steal my blankets they need them! I can always buy new ones, and they aren’t in a position to do that.”
Watching their mother, her children also became eager to help. “They need blankets,” said her 8-year old daughter matter of factly, “And so we’re going to give them blankets.” Together they gathered their nicest minky comforters. “I just hope these keep them warm,” said Sarah, who slept better that night knowing they would too.
She admits she had some reservations and understands that situations like this require caution, but says she felt an undeniable pull to give what she could. “We never know what brought people to the place they’re in,” she says. “They are someone’s brother or son or mom, and I believe those people are praying for their loved ones to be taken care of that night," she says, adding that she has a cousin in a similar situation and hopes she encounters people who are kind and willing to lend her a hand from time to time.
Sarah doesn't know what it's like to be homeless but has overcome her own share of struggles, including years of heartache brought on by pregnancy loss and infertility, before growing her family through adoption and IVF. She has also battled debilitating food addiction and completed a 12-step addiction recovery program, ultimately losing over 100 pounds.
Through all of it, she has been open about her struggles and received an outpouring of support, appearing as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, and sharing even her lowest moments of grief with her followers on Instagram. "I have felt seen and loved," she says, "And I do believe everyone deserves to feel that."
Far more revealing of her character however, than reality television fame or thousands of followers on social media, is what Sarah chose to do when she was home washing dishes, noticed cold strangers behind her fence, and no one was watching to see how she would respond.
The next morning she packed up a bag of breakfast burritos and filled two Nalgene water bottles with hot chocolate, which she told the couple to keep and fill with hot water from a gas station to warm their sleeping bags at night. Later, she looked out the window to find that they were gone but her blankets remained neatly folded by the fence, the kindness of a stranger returned. This is how we do it here.
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