My visit to Sharing and Caring Hands, a food shelf, was humbling, convicting and a truly immersive learning experience. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I knew then, that it must have been a divine appointment. I left the food shelf not just physically fed, but with a deep spiritual and emotional satisfaction.
Last Tuesday, I looked around in desperation for any way I could get through this project successfully. The only challenge I was facing was time. As a student who works 3 part-time jobs, I was not expecting to have the pleasure of a 2 hour bus ride. I knew the only day I could truly trust myself to get everything done was Tuesday because, the entire week was meant to be jam-packed with events and preparations for the approaching finals week. I spent so much time panicking on how soon I could finish the assignment, I did not prepare myself mentally or spiritually for the encounters I was about to experience.
Finally at work, I was able to google a nearby food shelf which was meant to open about the same time I got off work. So quickly, I rushed out earlier than usual, with the fear of traffic, and the ignorance of God’s overarching plan over my day. The food shelf happened to be only 6 minutes away from my workplace. I arrived more than 45 minutes early by car, while those who were truly in need walked wearily to the entrance. I kept asking myself insensitively where a parking lot would be at a homeless food shelf that catered for many living under the poverty line. I cheated by parking in the staff parking lot. I made sure to take off all make up and jewelry so that I could rightfully fit in without any suspicions. I even wore a scarf and painted sadness on my face.
As I was trying to get into the mindset of a homeless person, I was wondering what to expect from an experience like this. I was one of the first people to arrive to the shelter. When I got there, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to sit and with whom. I had to prompt myself once more to make an effort to socialize. As much as I had tried to disguise myself, I realized that I still could not blend in, what betrayed me even more was my African accent. I awkwardly sat next to a couple and their male friend, because, the only other person, a woman, had the countenance of someone who wanted to be alone. As soon as I sat down though, I received a dirty look from the woman who was sitting next to a man. I quickly got the cue that I was unwanted, so I left.
I then sat next to the other woman, the lonely old one. For privacy reasons, I will call her Jill. Jill completely ignored me for the first five minutes, but I then had to initiate every conversation with her. She answered with one word answers. Her eyes were tired, and her hair was extremely grey in just the front. Her face was covered with the wrinkles of worry and sadness, and I am glad I saw her smile before I left. She later told me that her husband had just passed away the month before. She said this through smoke burnt lips, broken teeth, and tear stained eyes. At that moment I started noticing how dark the room was becoming, and there was nothing I could really say to comfort her, because I was slowly slipping to the past of my losses also. We both cried together over past love. The room wreaked of sweat, spit, and drugs, and I started to realize that I was not that far broken from anyone else in there. I had been there before, even if it was my first time there.
Then walked in Emma, a resilient Ecuadorean woman with her baby carriage. I mention that because she was so proud to be from her country. She burst into the middle of the line, cutting right in front of Jill and I . At that point I was too bummed out to care about the extra minute of waiting I endured for my food, besides I was trying to fit in. But she had so much life, and so much to say. She told us about the love of Jesus Christ and how He had saved her from that dark place that everyone seemed to be slipping into. She sang out loud and quoted many uplifting verses. She poured her motherly love on us. Soon a sermon erupted from the midst of the long food line. She was the one who made Jill smile again. I’m glad she came when she did. There was only so much my melancholic temperament could do for Jill.
The food was served by teenagers. They were very kind and patient to us. They treated us like we mattered. One of them offered to hold and serve Emma’s plate, while she attended to the baby. Even though there were arguments and struggles between some of the men in the room, the volunteers were different. They were neutral observers, just like me, but like Emma, they gave a light to the entire room, not to mention the food they served was amazing. We had barbeque ribs, and fries with a pickle, and brownies, with dapples and ice cream. It was really sweet and I actually enjoyed myself. It felt like a family dinner, with Jill helping herself to seconds and thirds, and Emma seriously preaching to everyone on the table. It was amazing. Sadly, there were grown men next to us, who were discussing how they were going to use their monthly earnings from begging to buy more drugs. Some people hid the food in compartments and kept going for more.
The volunteers were friendly and humble and offered more food to their guests. We all said a prayer together before we ate. This was led by the volunteers. However, they did not join us for dinner. In general, everyone was thankful for the food, especially since they knew it cost them nothing and they could always come back for more. It was somehow hard for me to accept that, because I know that unlike everyone else in the room, even though I came for food, I left with the bread of life, and an empty pockets. That day, I made a friend, two in fact. I learnt that regardless of what we see on the table, God’s love is always made available for us, if we can only see beyond our basic earthly needs, he will refresh and sustain us. Us humans, we have a hunger that not even a loved one or food can satisfy. I learnt more than anything that like everyone else in the room, I was wounded somehow or broken, and my brokenness could only be mended by Jesus. I was truly grateful for this experience and the free food shared with brothers and sisters in Christ.
“And when I come to die, Oh when I come to die, Oh when I come to die, Give me Jesus.”