Editor’s note: This was written originally by a friend co-laboring down in Indianapolis, who first posted it to her personal blog. We are grateful she was willing to let us re-share these words with you.
From author: My name is Molly. I am an advocate. For the poor, for my children, and for a faith that is well-represented. Advocacy has taken on many different forms for me over the years. Currently I run a food pantry on the east side of Indianapolis that provides food to over 1,200 families each month. I used to think I was called to serve those living in poverty, but over the past few years I’ve learned that’s just one piece of it. I believe part of my calling is to equip and empower others to do the same.
It is early morning and the sun is just beginning to wake. That first drink of coffee warms my lips, warms my inside. I kiss my children goodbye, the two hour delay leaving them home, snuggled on the couch this bitter January day. I zip my coat, tighten my scarf and head for work. On the radio they talk about subzero temperatures and snow delays, make jokes about how it’s too cold to leave the house even for the kids to go sledding. But when I arrive at the Food Pantry, an hour and a half before we open, I find plenty of people that have already left the house. I find some waiting in their cars, others peering through the windows to see what’s inside. One comes out from around back, probably checking to see if we’ve set anything salvageable out for the trash.
We will serve two hundred families that day. Many will come in under dressed for the weather. Some will wait at the bus stop for a ride. Others will even walk. For many of our families, our waiting room will be the warmest place they sit all day. They will wait patiently with their children for their turn to shop. Wait patiently with their infants. There is an older man that catches my eye. He nearly falls coming up to the counter, tripping over his own feet. He talks to me about his arthritis as he holds up a shaky hand with a cane. Smiles warmly and says, ‘Thank You,’ as he moves slowly toward the shopping carts. I will lose count that day of the number of people that say, ‘Thank You.’
Each person that comes through the pantry line has a story that has brought them to this place of great need. Sometimes the need is so deep and so real that you can see it on them the moment they walk in. There is a heaviness they carry. A certain sadness that hovers over them as they speak. A quiet desperation in their eyes.
The truth is we all hunger for something. For love, for affirmation, for healing. And recognizing that is the first step towards making a difference in the world. When we draw a line in the sand and say that those living in poverty are on one side and those not living in poverty are on the other we lose the battle for justice before it even starts. True justice starts with recognizing that every person has honor. True justice starts with looking at every person without judgement.
One of the most shocking things I’ve seen in the past six months is the diverse way we react to this issue of hunger. At times I have found it heartbreaking and at other times simply appalling. For some insane reason there seems to be a disagreement over feeding people who are hungry. When I hear people start talking about ‘lazy people getting handouts’ my heart breaks and is set on holy fire at the same time. That statement is loaded with both judgement and condemnation.
Do you see the picture of that little boy at the top of this page? Let’s assume he’s hungry. Anyone who claims to love others should be the first one to hand him a loaf of bread. One half of the people visiting food pantries in America are children or senior citizens. One half. And the other half? The truth is we don’t know their stories. But if we did, would that give us the right to judge? So often as believers, we walk around in the world thinking we’re here to save the day. Thinking we know exactly what changes people need to make in their lives to turn things around. But people don’t need our advice. They don’t need our preaching. People need us to listen to them. To see them. To care.
The summer before my senior year in college I did inner-city ministry in St. Louis. The program I was a part of offered an educational day camp all summer to keep kids off the street and to help them with concepts they hadn’t mastered through the school year. I lived in the basement of an old YMCA building with a couple roommates and a couple mice. I taught fifth graders stuff they should have already known and I wasn’t exactly changing the world the way I had planned. The kids in my class didn’t want to be learning but they didn’t want to be home either. You know why? We provided lunch at the end of the day.
There was a girl, I’ll call her Courtney, who was always talking back, always disrupting the class. I was trying to help her have a Christian education and she was being so disrespectful. The nerve. What she was actually doing was desperately crying out for my attention but I couldn’t see it. No, I didn’t take the time to see it. So, instead of looking her in the eye and telling her how much her actions hurt me, instead of trying to find out what was happening in her life, I went to her mother who assured me she would take care of it.
Courtney wasn’t in class the next day and quite honestly I was relieved. The kids who wanted to learn were able to much easier without her there. After school her brother walked into my classroom and asked to talk to me. As he spoke my heart crumbled. I began to understand what true humility felt like. To understand how ignorant it was of me to just waltz into this culture of poverty and think I had something to offer without truly understanding what it was they needed.
The night that I had talked to Courtney’s mom she went home and whipped her. Then she sent her to her room. For three days. She wasn’t even allowed to leave to eat. He cried as he told me. He begged me to come to his house and talk to his mom and her boyfriend. To come help Courtney so she would stop crying.
It was almost fifteen years ago that I spent the summer with those kids. I made only twenty bucks a week but the deposits they made in my life were invaluable. I think about them sometimes as I look out at our line in the mornings and I wonder where they are now. I didn’t tell you that story so you would feel compassion for poor kids. I told the story because I think it’s important that we remember that many of the adults waiting in these lines are Courtneys, all grown up.
It’s pretty easy to look at someone from a distance and point out all the things they ‘should have’ done. Should have stayed in school. Should have kept a job. Should have used birth control. But if you actually get close enough to hear the stories that make up a person’s life, well, it’s actually pretty easy to understand why things didn’t turn out the way they planned. If we just listen to one another it’s easier to have grace. And if we stop trying to draw a line in the sand, it’s easier to hand someone a loaf of bread without judgement.
Everywhere we look these days, it seems like we can find some type of injustice. And there’s really not much we can do about a lot of it. But there is something you can do about this.
You can donate food. Through something as simple as dining out, or by giving food directly. And maybe not the food that’s expired in your pantry, but the few extra things you can pick up the next time you’re at the store to drop them off at a food pantry or bank near you.
Just like that, you did something. It may not seem like much, but it matters too.
– Molly M. (visit site)
Why does hunger matter to you? Leave a reply below with your thoughts. Selected responses will receive an emailed restaurant gift certificate from FoodCircles.