Friday, August 24, 2018

REAL Reality TV World, Thursday Food Pantry


On Thursdays a group of people gather at the Pantry. They gather there on other days as well but the later pantry time (4-5:30) offers a time for more socializing, I suppose. The traffic at Pantry slows down and they rev up. On that day, everything is much livelier at closing than on others.

Several of the people help with the cleanup. Volunteers begin taking down chairs and tables after C, a tiny woman, maybe 100 lbs, wipes them down. She tells people to finish up with their dishes “so Miss Barbi can close this place up on time.” T, aka Dogg, sits in his place and watches everyone as he sips his coffee. Miss H directs others as to what they should be doing. Pfollows M around as he gathers up all the trash. Reta, the Deaconess Nurse, finishes with her last patient. On the days that he is there, A finishes cleaning up the kitchen. At this point, most of the volunteers have left the building. A couple of volunteers never leave until I give them the go ahead. They are just making sure I am ok. This particular group is always ok.

I wonder if the group of people remaining wait until the other volunteers are gone to be their crazy funny selves. Or maybe it is because I can finally pay attention to them that I actually see how they are. All the drama of the day is over, and the comedy begins.

During the pantry, the drama comes in many forms. From people needing someone to pray for them, right then, right there; to someone bumping into another’s elbow and spilling coffee, threatening the start of World War III; to Mr. W talking non-stop to everyone, to someone, to no one, in his sometimes staccato, sometimes jabberwocky style; to our garden lady (she sleeps there), getting mad and calling everyone the “n” word – most especially black men who happen to get in her way (although I have been called that by her on numerous occasions); to another demanding attention, good or bad; to others wanting me to hurry because they are going to miss their bus. Everyone poking me in the shoulder, calling my name (most calling me “Barb”, some call me Mama), pulling at my elbow, asking for this, asking for that. The need is constant, and one need is always more important than the next.

It is 5:40 p.m. and the doors are locked, the lights are dimmed, the kitchen is closed, the trash is out, the tables are wiped clean and put up. I start singing my closing song that none of them recognize – “Turn out the lights, the party’s over. All good things must come to an end. Turn out the lights, the party’s over and tomorrow starts the same old thing again.” That’s Willie Nelson, y’all. Whatever.

Miss H always says, “The fat lady’s singing.” M says, “Ok, Barb, it’s time for us to go.” P always says, “You’re right, M. It’s time for us to go.”
Then, Miss H says, “Before I go, I need to go to the little girls’ room.” C replies (always), “Miss H can’t ever go before closing time. She has to wait. Now we have to wait on her because she needs help carrying her bags to the car.”

One after another says, well, it’s time to go, but C reminds everyone that they are ‘waiting on Miss H to come out of the bathroom because she can’t ever go before it’s time to leave.’ I remind them that they could just carry the bags outside and wait on her there, to which no one pays me any mind.

P sees a bag sitting on one of the chairs and wonders aloud as to whose it is. One or more of us always tells him that it belongs to M(we know this because it is where he was sitting). P says, “Oh. Oh. This must be M’s.” To which we all agree ...  yep, yep, it must be …

Reta and I look at each other and can’t keep from grinning. No one wants to leave. Reta says that someone ought to film this and put it on TV. We are watching some real reality comedy. It’s called community. And it is beautiful.

Finally, they are all on their way. Reta stays for a minute and we talk about the day. Then she is gone, and I am alone, not only in the South Parish Hall but in the entire building. I soak in the quiet and marvel at what has gone on in that space in the past week. God is present always, even when I get rushed and forget. Moments like these remind me that God is also good, always with me.

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