They are unemployed, elderly, sick, mentally debilitated, raising grandkids, single parents, widowed, living on social security, poor, handicapped and some irresponsible, lazy and deadbeats. They stand for an hour in pouring rain, freezing temperatures and extreme heat--- for one thing....food for their families. I'm not naive enough to believe that every single one of them is legitimately needy, but for the most part, to the best of our screening abilities, they need the food from the food pantry our church operates.
Every month, on the third Saturday morning, they line up outside a little brick house. One hour before the pantry opens you can find 15-25 people waiting before the pantry even opens. More come later. The first time I found out that they were waiting in the 90 degree heat an hour early my response got caught in my throat. Then today when I drove up and saw them standing in the rain...some with an umbrella and some without, it was almost too much. I know rain won't kill you, but we're talking about a group of people that I have grown to love and watching them, knowing what some of them are going through -- knowing that they had been waiting for food, ...something I take so for granted, was a sight to behold.
What gets me every time is the type of people...mostly elderly that our pantry helps. It's a lazy generation of children that will leave their parents to raise their children. But that's what they've done. They are raising 2, 3 sometimes more grandchildren while trying to juggle their finances and their retirements and their SSI checks and the month is longer than their money. The face of poverty in America has changed. It's no longer just the unemployed who needs a helping hand. It's no longer just the single mom who can't make rent. It's alarming...but it's the very people who should be honored in their old age...these veterans, these grandparents, this generation of hard working people who stand in the cold, in the rain, in the heat...to get food.
This day a group of 8 black women circled the tiny holding room waiting for their chance to get their food. They had already waiting in the rain. They were talking. The conversation was light until one of the women, 50ish, began to talk about her husband. Debilitated from some kind of accident, hardly knowing her anymore, sharing her soul, her heartache, her loneliness with this group of women. I listened. Wondering what advice to give. What help to offer. But, before I could say anything, one in the company of black women, said quietly, "take it to Jesus darlin" another quietly said "Amen". As you can picture these women each quietly sharing some nugget of advice, I sat there quietly, letting their message, their wisdom of years of dealing with heartache and their compassion oozing over this woman as hands reached out, hugs given, kleenex offered. And then a prayer...short and beautiful...with a soft "yes, Lord" and a louder "help her, Father". It was the presence of God in the brick house. It was what the company of black women gave me this day.
So, these are the people in my neighborhood. They are my sisters...my company of black women. Ones that I would hold my head up high to spend time with in public or at the food pantry once a month. They are amazing. They are the face of hunger in America...maybe not everywhere...but here...in my neighborhood. I'm blessed and better for knowing them.