By Saturday I was exhausted, physically yes, but emotionally I felt like curling up in the fetal position somewhere. Chris’ accident and the news of Little Mary’s death, combined with the constant and regular needs at Joe’s had about done me in. Then, you never realize how much another person is doing until they are suddenly out of the picture, and this was the case with our Chris. Immediately following his motorcycle accident, the wonderful folks in our Joe’s Community just began to step up all over the place. Ladies have covered extra shifts. Regulars have washed dishes. Even the gang boys have started “doing chores” around the place to help out.
The Food Pantry is Chris’ baby. He not only manages the whole program, from the picking up of the food, to the greeting of people and delegating volunteers to pray with people and distribute food, but he loves it. He enjoys meeting the people, hearing their stories and sharing the love of Jesus in such a practical way. Volunteers had offered to cover his responsibilities, but we knew there was no way we’d do it as well as he does. We were just hoping to somehow pull if off.
I walked into Joe’s at about noon and the ladies came directly to me. They said, “We have a problem.” When they went to pick up the food, like Chris does every Saturday, they were told that we were only allotted 15 families’ worth—but we had 34 people signed up!! Diana, one of our new missionary students, had tears in her eyes. She said, “What are we gonna do? We can’t send people away.”
We began brainstorming. We could just tell the folks on the list that we hadn’t received enough food today—No, that was unacceptable. We could redistribute the food into more bags, so they could all get some. People would just get less food. We had some food in our Kitchen Table. Maybe there was enough there to put together some more bags. No way. Not enough to make bags for another 19 families!
The front door of Joe’s opened, and a small, older woman walked in. Speaking kind of to the whole room, she said, “I have some food out here in my car for you all. Can I get some guys to help me carry it?”
We looked at each other and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
The guys hauled in six large boxes of food!
Now, lest you think that is all of the story, keep reading. It gets even better!
This woman is a member of small Lutheran church a few miles away from Joe’s. They had just begun a grocery program that provides food at very inexpensive rates. The people who were to receive these boxes had already paid $35 a piece, but they didn’t show up to get their groceries. The church had no way to store the frozen items, and so they thought maybe we could get them out to folks in need.
When we opened the boxes, they were full of chicken breasts, whole hams, frozen vegetables, sweet potato fries, pizza, and even cakes! Not just food, but great food!
The tears that were brimming Diana’s eyes became sobs, as she cried, “I have heard stories of God doing things like this, but I have never seen it! This is incredible.”
We went down to the Kitchen Table and started creating some more bags of dry goods. Together with the frozen food, we were able to put together enough for 30 households.
In the midst of running around sorting items and moving bags, a woman came to me and asked, “Will we be able to get some food today?” I asked her if she was already on the list. She told me, “No,” then went on to tell me her story. Her son-in-law had just left her daughter, so she had taken her and the two grand babies in. She said she had breakfast for them that morning, but that she had no more to feed them. She was hoping to get food from us. I looked at the abundance that God had provided and wondered, “Will it be enough?” I added her name to the list.
Brandee who was taking Chris’ role as the greeter opened the Food Pantry, and we started handing out groceries. About half way through, Diana came to me and said, “We’re not gonna have enough. Brandee has been giving out double allotments to the bigger families!” I went to Brandee and asked, and she said, “Oh, yeah. That’s what Chris usually has us do for larger families. We give them two allotments.” But we didn’t have enough to do that!
I ran back to the Kitchen Table and began scouring the already scavenged shelves. Lots of random stuff—some artichoke hearts, some Ranch dressing, a few bags of croutons, but also a few staples that people could use—beans, rice, pasta and some canned vegetables. I was somehow able to come up with six more bags. I went back to the frozen food station and instructed Rachel to redivide what we had left to make sure everyone got some of the “special” food.
The door to Joe’s opened again, and in came a woman and six children. I thought, “Boy, I hope she’s already on the list.” But no. I saw someone point her to me, and then she was asking if it was still possible for her to get some food for her family. The stacks of grocery bags on the stage were dwindling. I told her our situation and that we would put her on the list, but that I couldn’t guarantee there would be enough. She was welcome to wait and see.
The Food Pantry at Joe’s is an amazing experience every week. As we give out the groceries, we often get to hear people’s stories, sometimes weep with them, and many times pray with them. Volunteers serve in all these ways, and then carry the groceries out to a car, stroller or shopping cart—whatever means of transport they have. Some walk down the street carrying the bags in their arms. That day, the place was packed. Every chair was full—people drinking crazy good coffee while they waited for bags of food.
At the end of the day, when the stage stood empty, every family—every person—including the lady with six children, had gone home with bags of groceries.
The dry goods were all gone, but when we looked at those special frozen food boxes, there were leftovers. We had counted and listed and had every item organized to give away all that food. I asked Rachel, “Did you give out everything as we planned?” She said, “Yes. They all got chicken, vegetables, fries, hams, everything.” We don’t know what happened, but somehow there was a whole box worth of frozen food left. We’ve been eating that food in our Sunday night Community Dinners for the two weeks since.
Final piece of the story: On Sundays at Joe’s, we work our way through one of the Gospels. We are in the book of Matthew, and each week we just take the next section and learn from it together. The day after this Food Pantry miracle, yes, our next story just happened to be The Feeding of the Four Thousand! John stood up, read the story from Matthew and then said, “But this kind of thing only happened back in the days of Jesus,” and the crowd erupted in laughter and applause. One of the guys shouted, “If Jesus could feed 4000, surely he could feed 30.”
I started thinking about Diana’s comment, “I’ve heard about these kind of miracles before, but I’ve never seen God do it.” I wonder if the miracles happen only when we put ourselves between God and the people in need. Jesus said to his disciples that day, “You feed them.” They offered their little bit, and then watched him do the rest.
The awareness of God’s presence and His activity keep us doing just that.