Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feeding the Hungry

In the ordinary, day-to-day life of a mother, I get many opportunities to practice some of the Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead). Certainly I spend a good part of every day feeding hungry children, giving them drinks, clothing them, sheltering them. And I know that there is value and holiness in this vocation as mother and teacher. God placed me here for a reason.

But lately, it hasn't been feeling like quite enough. BigBro has always been really sensitive about people not having enough food to eat. Last year, he took some money he had saved and bought food to donate to our local food pantry. This year, just before Thanksgiving, he told me that what he wanted most for Christmas was for every person to have enough food to eat. When he said that, I paused. Really? That's what you want most? You're six. Really?

Well, after my pause (and a check of my own heart to see where I am falling short), I approached a man in my parish involved with the St Vincent dePaul Society. I asked him if he knew of some way for BigBro and me to help out with the food pantry. Our town is blessed to have a pantry that is run by a conglomerate of 10 local churches.

He was thrilled that I asked. He was in the process of organizing a new shift of volunteers for one Thursday night per month. He was able to procure special permission for BigBro to volunteer as well, and we started right before Christmas.

It's a really small commitment... two and a half hours, once a month. But it is stretching me. I am definitely out of my comfort zone. I've always said I cared about the poor; we always donate money and canned goods to food pantries (both this one and the larger metro one). But there was a comfortable distance between me and poverty. Poverty was a general concept, not an in-the-flesh reality. Poverty didn't have a name, a story; truthfully, it wasn't quite real.

This past Thursday, BigBro spent most of the time in the back room, helping mark and sort cans. I was a "Shopper Assistant." People come in for their scheduled shop time, get checked in, and then are assigned an assistant to take them around the pantry and help them pick out the right amount of food for their need level. Usually, we make small talk about recipes, favorite foods, suggested meal prep ideas. Pleasant talk. Impersonal. Everyone doing our best to pretend that this is just any ordinary shopping trip.

But this week, I assisted a woman who wanted to talk about her family, about her medical issues, about her personal struggles day in and day out. We made it about 3/4 of the way around the pantry, and she was in too much pain to continue. I helped her to a seat, and finished shopping for her, holding up options here and there. Then we just sat together for a few minutes, me listening as she talked. I helped her and her husband get their groceries in the trunk, and we talked about family we both had in New Jersey.

When I was done loading their groceries, she gave me a hug and thanked me. But I was the one who needed to do the thanking. By letting me into her life, letting me see who she was and sharing some of her struggles with me, she had sliced through the polite facade I had been holding in front of me. She had made this very personal act... personal.

And in that way, she performed her own Corporal Work of Mercy... feeding a hunger I didn't know I had inside me.

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