Free Meals

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We live in a rich country, but there are many people in this country who don’t feel its richness. We have people who are hungry, sick, and lonely – who are disenfranchised and ignored by our society. The homeless who live in cities are obvious, but they are but the tip of the iceberg. There are people living across the country who experience poverty. The working poor, the temporarily unemployed…but even more than these, the seniors living on fixed incomes and tiny budgets. I fully absorbed these realities this week during my trip to Ohio, and I found myself thankful for small towns– for food banks and for helping neighbors and for free sandwiches.

I could write you a simple story about how I stood next to my grandfather and helped unload pallets of free food, or about how dirty I got as I hauled half rotten cabbages to people’s cars. I could talk about how excited some people were to get those cabbages, and I could extol the virtues of charity. I could paint pictures of the people I met – some educated, and some uncouth. Some old and toothless and hobbling in, and others fully capable of a day’s work…but they were all poor, and most of them were hungry. Everything I would write would be true, but t would only scratch the surface of the experience.

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I found myself appalled by so many people who were grateful for simple food to fill their bellies, when we’re supposed to be living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I was sad to hear seniors chatting about how they would can and freeze the food they were receiving so that they wouldn’t go hungry this winter. I noted conversations about people that couldn’t make it to the food line, but I was pleased that their neighbors and friends were taking extra to give to them later. I was surprised to see how people were so humbly happy to receive half rotten cabbage, wilted lettuce, and pygmy corn. It made me want to lavish them with better meals, and with a sustainable way of life.

I was also filled with hope. So many of the people volunteering to staff the pantry have little more than the people they served, but they helped with a smile. A young man stopped by with three big zucchini…he’d taken them out of his garden, and wanted to share his harvest with neighbors. An old woman stopped by with sandwiches – untoasted white bread with a single slice of meat – and explained that she had extras from a party the day before, and wanted to share them. The part-time postman, who was working during the give away, ended up with some peaches and corn thanks to thoughtful neighbors. And a man twice my age refused to let me lift pallets and heavy stacks of corn, and worked until his gloves were literally threadbare.

There’s a lot that is wrong with this country – there’s a lot that is poor, and threadbare, and hungry. It needs to be fixed, and I want to be part of the solution. But there’s also hope…there are helping neighbors, and food banks, and people who share. I hope that’s enough of a seed to grow a better solution.

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