Friday, September 23, 2016

Raw and uncut

I am weighed down and have to release this bit by bit. I recognize and name my privilege. Privileges are not rights and I know this. This is self serving to a big extent; yet, it also serves the bigger good because I need to unload some of this. Perhaps in the telling of my tale, new light will dawn, in me and or possibly in the reader. This is raw and uncut, unedited. It just is.

Synopsis of the past two weeks
September 12 – 18
Tuesday
Crazy day. Lots of people. Second full week of the month. I used to think that I could predict when the surges would happen but I have been wrong so many times I stopped trying to look at trends. On Tuesday, September 12, we served 133 individuals in one and a half hours. That is not 133 individuals that came in; but it was a great many single households with the rest families ranging from 2 to 10. However, this number “served” means only those who came for their monthly allocation of groceries and does not include, for the most part, those who came simply for the meal being offered. So, in that space of the first hour, approximately 60 people (volunteers, diners, household representatives) were in the space at any given moment. This is not a record but it is close enough to count.

Dennis came in. He was not sober. Jeremiah cut in the food line and Dennis made a comment. Jeremiah responded just as rudely. They did not seem to be able to control themselves so I stepped in between them. Both continued. I did not handle the situation well. I hurt Dennis’ feelings, although he was drunk so I do not take full responsibility for that. He was drunk enough to be at the crying stage. What I wanted to say to him, what I tried to say to him was that he was a member of Trinity and as that was the case, he needed to be hospitable. Jeremiah was wrong but he was a virtual stranger, a guest. 

Both hushed their noises until they got their food but Jeremiah left speaking loudly to the wind about kicking people out and he wouldn’t be back. I told him that was his choice. Dennis took his food and went off and cried in his solitude. I felt like crap but was too damn busy to worry about either. And I was kind of pissed that both of them acted like aggrieved ten year olds. I should not have to monitor, much less control, people. Dammit.

Dennis later left. Jeremiah came back in and started the conversation again that I needed to make a rule that drunks were allowed. I deemed it necessary to let him know that I am not in the business of kicking people out or denying people entrance. He said that he would not return until I did. I said, Ok…again, that is your choice. He said that the world was full of assholes that needed to be put in their place. I told him that I agreed with him totally.
Sigh.

Wednesday
Almost as crazy but not quite so. Only 90 individuals were served groceries. We had the normal crowd for the meal. The day was busy but not as chaotic.

No Dennis. No Jeremiah. But I expected neither. I needed the calmer atmosphere.

Thursday
Always a long day because I pick up from Whole Foods at 9 am and then take it back to Trinity to sort and store. I often have help picking up from Whole Foods and help with sorting and storing also. It is like getting ready for Christmas. One never knows what will be available. Sometimes it is a huge amount (2 small SUV loads) and sometimes not nearly so much. Always, always, it is more than we ever had before. J After noon, volunteers leave and I take the next two hours to catch up on paperwork or simply eat lunch and relax. By 2:30, there is a meal to get ready and Gwen, a volunteer, returns to help get that ready. 

Setting up for pantry takes a bit longer on Thursdays simply because it is a dance to arrange all the goodies. Then pantry begins at 4 and is either steady on or sometimes slow dependent upon the time of the month. This one was steady busy but not too busy. 

Regardless, by 5:30 when the volunteers scatter to other worlds, I am one exhausted puppy. This week, I am physically spent and even though this week was emotionally exhausting, this particular day was simply long.

Still no Dennis. I know he thinks he needs to apologize and won’t be back until he gets his courage.

Friday
Rest. Replenish. Try to Renew. But I couldn’t write. Too much. Too much.

Sunday
While I love having some Sundays off, I do also find a renewal of energy on Sundays. I do little but meet and greet. I talk, listen, shake hands, offer hugs, and laugh a lot. It is normally a good day. This one was no different.

But still no Dennis. But I did hear that he came to church so that is good. I know he is alive.

The week of September 19 – 22
Tuesday
It was a normal run of the mill Tuesday, busy simply because it was the first day of week’s pantry but relatively normal. Every Tuesday pantry begins with me going by Restaurant Depot to purchase the week’s supply of eggs. We give out 4 eggs per person up to a max of one dozen. Right now, eggs are relatively inexpensive. Last year, eggs were as high as $24 per case (a dozen dozen) but now are resting at the stable of price of less than $10 per case. After that stop, I run by 2nd Presbyterian to pick up fresh produce from Arthur Culbert’s CWE Urban Farm.  http://www.cwefarm.org/our-farmers/ The Farm grows and shares its produce with the Saturday pantry at 2nd Presbyterian and Trinity Food Pantry. It is a blessing. After pick up, it’s on to Trinity to begin the set up for a new week.

That is a normal week. And this Tuesday was a normal day, thankfully.

Jeremiah came by to eat but was fairly aloof. He said hello but didn’t stick around. 

Meanwhile, people who are homeless continue to find us. The meal part of the ministry is growing.

Many think that homeless people are dirty, drunk/addicted, mentally unstable, or many other things. Some may be. But the men and women that come to Trinity, for the most part, are clean and take a certain pride in being that way. There are several that no one would ever realize are homeless.

Arlie, a pantry meal and Sunday Hot Lunch regular, and his cousin Ron (neither of whom are homeless), were laughing and called me over. Arlie asked Ron, “What do they call this place now?” Ron answered, “Barb’s place.” Both just heehawed. Arlie said that everyone he sees on the street asks, “Hey, you going down to Barb’s Place later?” I laugh. I am flattered. I feel very weird about it. 

I know that I have set into play a few beliefs that have come into a natural being. It is good. It’s all about relationship. It’s all about being a part of the community, the people of God, together, in love. It’s about love.

It’s not about it being MY place. I won’t always be there. But I do hope that the community will always have a place for everyone.

Wednesday
It was relatively slow. Still no Dennis but I am no longer worried because Reta, our parish nurse from Deaconess Faith Nurses saw him earlier at Pilgrim UCC where she ministers each Wednesday morning. I know he will probably show up on Thursday.

Today, we served knockwurst and cabbage with several sides and plenty of desserts. We open the doors at 1:30. By 2:15, all the Knockwurst and sides were gone. There were still desserts but far fewer. The pantry was slow but the meal was not. It was hopping.

The pantry dynamic is shifting, growing. It is good. But sometimes it is so good that it scares me. I don’t know why. It’s just there. I share the love but as I share that, I also feel a certain draining. It is far easier for me to understand why Jesus had to go into the wilderness to get away. Sometimes I feel like I am in a scene from Jesus Christ Superstar, the Temple Lyrics scene:

See my eyes, I can hardly see
See me stand, I can hardly walk
I believe you can make me whole
See my tongue, I can hardly talk
See my skin, I'm a mass of blood
See my legs, I can hardly stand
I believe you can make me well
See my purse, I'm a poor, poor man

Hearing my name repeatedly called, from all directions, people pulling at my clothes, motioning to get my attention, makes me want to cry out, “Ooh there’s too many of you,” too much need, too much pain, far too little I can do. 

I am not in any way comparing myself to Christ. I am simply stating that I understand the draining.

That is my privilege speaking. I have the privilege of walking away, finding a way to recuperate, to rest, to revive myself. When I drive home at night in my cute little car to my beautiful wife and our wonderfully air conditioned home to drink a glass of wine, eat a little food, watch a little TV before retiring upstairs to my comfy bed, I leave all the people. There is a limit and I cannot fool myself into thinking otherwise. My compassion turns away from them to my own privilege. One or two of them may make it to my dreams but for the most part, they return to their hot crumbly house, bedbug infested apartment, cubby, vaco, SRO, space under a stairwell or bridge, or shelter spot. They go back into their world that has far too much oppression and is most often underserved.

Thursday
I’m good to go. The haul from Whole Foods is light but that helps me be thankful. My prayer these days is for God to help me so that I do not become complacent in the abundance. Or arrogant.

But somewhere along the line, as Gwen and I are talking, we go from laughing to crying in a space of seconds. We both realize that we have been practicing Joy but suddenly when faced with the certain reality of the world that our hearts are breaking. So, we cry for a few minutes. Then we resolve to once again practice Joy. But I think we are hiding behind a fa├žade. Somehow it feels as though “shield the joyous” phrase from Compline would fit here.

But it gets us through the time so that when it’s time for pantry, our smiles are from our hearts and in our eyes. We meet and greet.

Dennis comes in, immediately comes to me and says, “Barbi, I am sorry.” It is the apology of an alcoholic and I take it as it comes, heartfelt with full intentions of never acting that way again. But I am also able to tell him my own guilt/frustration at not saying what I meant to say. So I shared with him that he is loved by this parish and that he is a full member. Therefore, he has to think of himself as host rather than simply guest. And he has to sometimes wait. He accepts that, happy that I still love him and I am not angry at him. He has a past that includes a lot of angry family members.

Then a young man comes in. It just so happens that he is a young white guy from Cape Girardeau. I gathered that he had not been homeless long.

We try to adapt the food we give out according to special needs of the patrons. We even have a gluten-free cabinet. We have vegetarians that come to the pantry, too. Just because people are poor does not mean that they will eat just anything.

I asked him if the grocery bag that we gave him was ok or did he need to exchange some of the goods. He looked at me quizzically. I explained that some things might be useless to him – potatoes, cabbage, onions, raw eggs – unless he had a way to cook them. I explained that I had a can opener, pop tops, individual servings of fruit, etc. Plus, he had no idea how heavy all that stuff could be. He finally said maybe he should not take it all. The practical vs the desire to have enough. I told him he should take enough to have food that would last until Tuesday, gave him a list of places he could go to shower and to eat over the next few days, and then Reta (the nurse) hooked him up with Ernest.

Ernest used to be homeless. He had a really bad stroke about 2 ½ years ago that almost killed him. He still has a limp and has to walk with the aid of a cane but oh my goodness how he has improved. He is a funny guy and has his own special issues. However, he sat down to eat and talk with the guy and gave him some serious information about the dos and don’ts of being homeless. And he shared with him the location of the safe place where he used to sleep. None of the guys that come to Trinity like New Life or downtown. They all believe it is safer to be near Forest Park and the Central West End. They say they like it here because there are fewer drug and drug dealer problems.

Anyway, Ernest, God bless him, educated the young man and alleviated a little bit of my concern. Oh, and did I say that Ernest asked him if he could pray with him? Nah, I know I didn’t. But he did. And they did. And it was good.    

Pantry is almost over. Yolanda and her youngest son come in five minutes before closing. I love her. She is so kind, so calm, so aware of her blessings. And her kids are fine children. Two sons and a daughter. The youngest son is about 9 and is adorable. I haven’t met her daughter but she is a teen. The oldest son came in three or four weeks ago to pick up the groceries for his mom because she was working. Today, Yolanda told me that he was shot in the back two weeks ago. He is alive and just got out of the hospital. The bullet went all the way through him, tearing his intestines and came out his stomach. He will have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. She is thankful he is alive.

It took everything I had to hold it together. Yolanda didn’t cry. I couldn’t either. He was not my son. I do not love him like a mother would. I cannot live that pain she had, the fear she felt when she got the call, the realization that her son had become a part of the statistics that tell the tell-tale story of young black men. She said that the good news was that there was a video and the police were working hard to get the guy who shot him.

As I fought to hold myself together, as she was leaving, she told me that she really appreciated me and Trinity Food Pantry.

I locked the doors.

I am undone.

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Addendum:
I did not mention the volunteers, many of whom take great care of me. They feel my fragility sometimes and offer much support. This is a ministry of many, not simply one person. I may lead but what is a leader if no one follows? We are following what God has called us to do - to share the love. And we do it well. I am thankful for each and everyone of the 30+ volunteers who make up this weekly ministry. I give thanks to God for you all every day.