Friday, June 24, 2011

The Simple Joy of Buying Food for the Hungry

Last week was the kind of week where I wondered if God was trying to tell me something—and that something would have been “Leave your job right now. Do not stop to pack. Just go. Go and don’t look behind you. Don’t make me turn you into a pillar of salt.”

It was a humdinger of a week: countless student complaints, threats of lawsuits, a death threat issued against a teacher, lots of anger, lots of frustration, lots of negative energy: and when I’m in my office for the over 40 hours which is my work week, I get the brunt of a lot of it, even if I’m not the cause of the anger and frustration.

Well, if God wants me out, God will need to send me a plan for how we pay the bills. And I know that God doesn’t work like that. So, I decided to keep my head low and see what this week brought. So far, so good.

Yesterday was the perfect antidote to last week—I took a vacation day. I met up with my pastor and his child, and off we went to the grocery store to restock our church food bank.

We get matching funds from Thrivent, and because of the way it works, we had to spend a big chunk of money this month. My pastor tried to do some of the shopping last week, but he still had money that we needed to spend, and dwindling time. So, since I’ve had some vacation days this week, I volunteered to help.

We loaded up with the buy one, get one free specials. We loaded up three grocery carts with cereal, canned spaghetti/ravioli, tomato sauce, jelly (for the peanut butter bought last week), mac and cheese . . . all the sorts of things that fly out of our food pantry into the households of the poor.

And in these economic times, we’re seeing plenty of poor people who need food.

In one hour, we bought food, which means we’ll get to continue to buy food with matching funds, loaded the food in the car, and brought it into the church. I felt enormous satisfaction in doing that.

In so much of the work I get paid for, I don’t have that kind of satisfaction. I’m often listening to this kind of student complaint: “I got an F for that class and I don’t understand because I did every assignment except for three and I only missed 10 hours of class.” I really can’t help that kind of student.

In fact, I spend a lot of time with students who aren’t trying very hard but they’re suddenly panicked. And for all sorts of reasons, dealing with them can take hours—or the better part of a week, when they bring in their parents, the lawyers, the threats. I wouldn’t mind spending 10 or more hours a week trying to help a student who had tried really hard and still needed some interventions. But most people feel the way I do, and those cases don’t usually find their way to my office or higher.

No, I see the slackers who have somewhere learned that if they bluster enough, the world will cave in before their demands. Not me.

There’s nothing I can do for these students who have failed on so many levels. We can’t suspend the rules for them. They had to meet certain expectations (turn in assignments, come to class, do certain things while in class), and they didn’t. The F stands. And they don’t accept this ruling gracefully.

There’s a simplicity in stocking the food pantry that I don’t find often in administrative life. People are hungry. Food is on sale, which will stretch our resources. We buy the food. We haul it into the church. It’s there to distribute. We don’t have to judge how hungry people are or how much they deserve food. We just hand it out until it’s gone.

Of course, if I thought about it deeply, I might feel a similar frustration that I feel in my administrative life. Why is there so much hunger in a land of plenty? Why can’t we solve this issue?

But yesterday, I didn’t think about the larger issues. I just took delight and comfort in the easy act of buying food for hungry individuals and families. It was just what I needed to prove to myself that my existence on this planet isn’t completely worthless and futile.

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