Twenty-one pink boxes of donuts. Two cardboard boxes, jammed with 50 pounds of bread. One garbage bag of random pastries. I lower my convertible's top to fit it all in. With the top back up, and the morning sun beating through the canvas, I close my eyes at the next stoplight, breathing deeply, imagining I'm in a French bakery.
In fact, I am taking the day-old bread from Harris Teeter and Safeway to the Arlington Food Assistance Center where it will be weighed and distributed to the 130 clients coming that morning for supplemental groceries. Waiting at the light, I cannot help but wonder at my nine months of logging eight weekly hours at the aesthetically challenged, slightly odd-smelling warehouse in south Arlington.
Twenty years ago, I embarked on an internship at Voice of Calvary, a ministry among the poor in Jackson, MS. That month led to a journey of efforts at racial reconciliation, inner city living & ministry, talking with homeless people, tutoring kids, and giving to social-justice ministries. But during the two decades I came to realize that the problems were far deeper than I, Miss Preppy Girl from Preppy Girl Land, could ever solve: the poor needed jobs I couldn't create, communities I couldn't develop. Throwing one star fish back into the sea is lovely for that one starfish, but it would not stop him or her from washing back up on the shore with all the others in the next strong tide.
Crowded by these creeping realizations, my impulse to personally engage disenfranchised people slowly eked away. Band-Aids don't work, and Mother Teresa I am not. Why get all spun up about helping the poor who will be with us always? My sporadic journey with the poor had brought me to this quiet conclusion; my concern now rested in peace.
Then a family death and a failed romantic relationship broke my heart and stole my peace.
And in the wake of so much loss, my flipped-out soul began searching for ballast: something basic, hands-on, productive. Tentatively making my way to AFAC, I became a veggie lady, stuffing & offering bags of sweet potatoes and the like to young moms, old Russians, confused homeless men, and the random doctorate in economics.
If one can call distributing oversized carrots while talking smack with feisty, older, black ladies or playing peek-a-boo with squirmy toddlers helpful, I learned I could be helpful. But that wasn't my real discovery. I had a t-shirt once that quoted from Isaiah 58. If we shared our bread with the hungry, Isaiah declared, our healing would spring up speedily. If we poured ourselves out for the hungry, our gloom would be as noonday.
Fast-forward once more to the car full of baked goods. Breathing in the yeasty smell, I pondered just how right Isaiah was. Working for the hungry over the months had reminded me of our shared humanity (we are all creatures who need to eat) and our shared delight in the basics (eating is good!). This and good stories swapped, I am convinced, brought me ballast.
Am I solving the problem of poverty? No. Am I likely enabling some people? Yes. Must I keep learning what it truly means to care for the least of these? Decidedly.
But I'm willing to do this because I know the Scriptures tell the truth: sitting in my car that morning in what felt like the warmth of the noonday sun, I recognized without a shadow of doubt that the gloom had lifted and healing had come.