One of the many routine emails I get every day is the daily digest of my local freecycle listserv. I’ve never given anything away or received anything through the listserv, but I like to keep an eye out for stuff like free TVs and furniture. (Don’t laugh – it happens.) The other day I opened the digest email and saw the usual offerings of baby toys and requests for computer tables. Just as I was about to close the email and hit "Delete," one message stood right up and punched me straight in the heart:
Once it had been seen, it could not be unseen. I found myself confronted with two options: help this family, or ignore the request. All kinds of churchy thoughts started going through my head. Last week’s homily was about Biblical hospitality, and just that morning I had seen a Facebook post about a new pastor at a megachurch who disguised himself as a homeless person his first day on the job and mingled with 10,000 or so parishoners just to see what they would do. (They largely ignored and avoided him, as most of us do when we see a hobo.) When he took the stage after being introduced, he delivered a sermon to his surprised flock about feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as Christ calls us to do, and the Facebook post ends by challenging readers to examine our consciences and choose our future actions wisely.
Needless to say, my own life experience weighed heavily on my mind as I looked at this freecycle post. Miracle Man and I have been living the broke life for quite some time now, and we have had plenty of moments of looking at each other and wondering how in the hell we’re going to keep our kids fed until the next payday. We’ve also had moments of wondering how much longer we could hold onto our house, how much longer we’d be allowed to keep our cars, and how in the hell we’re going to get the electricity turned back on. We’ve had some rough economic times as life circumstances and poor financial decisions have collided in a spectacular fashion.
|Like this, only with more crying|
But even in our darkest hours, when Miracle Man was fighting for his life and I was the sole breadwinner and we had two kids in daycare plus regular expenses and medical bills out the wazoo, we were enormously blessed to have people in our lives who were willing and able to keep us afloat. Even as we’ve steadily (or not-so-steadily) gotten our footing since those darkest hours and we’ve learned to pinch a penny till it screams, we’ve had plenty of OH CRAP moments. But we’ve always gotten the reprieves we’ve needed to stay afloat, whether from generous relatives or an unexpected windfall or a debt that was forgiven (which is almost as rare as a double-headed unicorn, but it does happen sometimes). It’s always come just in time, when we really need it, which to me has just reinforced my belief that God is looking out for us despite our best efforts to screw everything all up.
So my desire to help this desperate father keep his babies fed waged a full-scale war with the reality of my being too broke to make much difference. So I took it to Facebook to get some outside perspective:
Me: Here’s a question. How do you respond to a stranger in desperate need of help when you are not in a position to make much difference? [blah blah blah, edited for length] My heart says hook this family up, my bank balance says offer them a box of spaghetti, the cynical voice in my head says to let someone else take care of it. What would you do?
I reached out to the guy who wrote the original post to ask about food allergies and picky eaters. (Small children don’t understand “We’re broke.” If they don’t like pickled beets, they won’t eat pickled beets no matter how hungry they are.) He responded that there were no allergies to worry about and that they would gladly accept anything food related. Two things that came through in his response were two emotions I know quite well: overwhelming relief and profound gratitude. I was very happy I had taken my moral delima to the masses, because together we were able to put enough supplies together for this family to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a few days. Will it end their crisis? No. But it will help them ride it out a little longer.
This whole episode also brought to light something that I’ve heard but never fully comprehended before: food pantries need donations all year long. The same people you donated canned yams to in November still need to eat in July. Despite the proclamations from the wealthy that the recession is long over, there are still plenty of people who would beg to differ. Times are still tough, jobs are still scarce, and lots of people are still fighting just to get by.
Food drives are great, but do you know what’s even better? A steady flow of supplies. Most grocery stores have an area where you can donate non-perishables that are then taken to food pantries. You don’t have to fill a cart – a box of cereal here or a can of greenbeans there can really add up if enough people help. I can’t end world hunger. You can’t end world hunger. But together, we can make a difference for someone who needs the help.
I have not yet met the family who sparked this philanthropic awakening. I am collecting supplies over the weekend and plan to deliver on Monday after work. Since I’ve read a lot of crime novels and am paranoid enough to have a nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that the original request was just a ploy by an axe murderer to lure another victim into his laire, Miracle Man is coming with me to meet the family in a well-lit, public parking lot near where they live. Safety first, kids. I hope to report next week that we delivered the mother lode and four hungry people could stop being hungry at least for a little while, because getting axe-murdered after trying to help someone would really suck. Stay tuned.