There is a lady who runs local food pantry program who has been there for over twenty-five years. She is small, round-shouldered, her face lined and worn. Her mouth is nearly always down turned and her curly shoulder-length hair is shot through with iron gray strands. Her hands, with their stubby fingers are gnarled and the knuckles enlarged from a lifetime of hard work. Her manner is brusque; she takes back-talk from no one. She runs the program, the hard day-to-day work of accepting food into the program and distributing it to the hungry. This time of year is especially hard, with good, well meaning people bringing in canned goods and other food and the demand rising as poor, disadvantaged folk try and put together a Christmas meal that resembles the ones they see on TV.
The volunteers at the program vary, between well-meaning folks who don’t understand the harsh realities of running a food program and perpetual volunteers who have found a home of sorts at the program. Many times, the latter are also recipients of the food pantry’s bounty. They know and understand, but need supervision. The well-meaning folks show up a few times, but become quickly disillusioned. The folks that take advantage of the food pantry program are often surly, unpleasant, or greedy. The well-meaning folks don’t understand that the recipients are many times embarrassed or frustrated at their situation and that translates into anger.
She manages them all. She acquaints the well meaning with the hard reality of charity work: Charity means giving to those that show no gratitude or don’t deserve it. Charity means coming back day after day, doing it again and again. Charity is watching those that would game the system and stopping them, so that everyone can have something to eat. Charity means watching people, who have swallowed their pride and in desperation and have come to the food pantry, but are too angry and embarrassed, to even say thank you. Charity is to know that those people are thankful, but just can’t say it. Charity is serving those that feel no thanks, only anger and contempt. The constant flow of desperate and sometimes greedy humanity is wearing. Many of the well meaning quickly realize that they do not have the iron in their spines to do what she does every day. They cannot work thanklessly and tirelessly in adverse circumstances like she does every day. Not many can.
I have a friend who every year buys frozen turkeys and brings them to the program. A total of 32 birds this year. He brings them in early, so families getting them have time to let them thaw and serve them up on Christmas day. I use my truck to move the cases of turkeys, as they have long since exceeded the capacity of my friend’s small vehicle. At the receiving dock, we see her. She is here, just as she has been here every year. We drop the turkeys off, and she fills him out a receipt. My friend makes small talk with her, his voice light and laughing. He knows her burden and would lighten it for a moment if he can. At the end of it, she wishes him Merry Christmas. He reaches out and puts his arms around her in a full bear hug, wishing her Merry Christmas. I see her stiffen and a moment later relax and hug him back. For that moment during the embrace I see the hardness fade from her eyes for just a moment and the radiant person who has given her life to helping others, shines out. They separate and she turns, yelling for one of the many volunteers to get the turkeys into the freezer. We walk out and get into my truck, driving away as more people pull up to the food pantry.
My heart is not as resilient as hers. It is easily crushed and slow to recover, like cheap down. Hers is a heart with the softest touch, yet woven from gossamer spring steel, caring, resilient, and steadfast.
Thank those that take care of others when so many of us cannot. Thank them now during the holiday season and the rest of year. Let them know that what they do is the very essence of humanity and charity. They are the best of us and most deserving of our praise and support.
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