I try to imagine her expression as she presses black and red markers to the paper plate. Does a faint smile turn up the corners of her mouth as she writes thanks? Does a worry line run deep between her eyebrows?
Is her house filled by the roars of boys or hollers of girls? Does she parent alone or with another’s arm wrapped around her shoulders? Does she wipe counters and clean scattered crumbs like prayer?
The wall directly in front of the stainless steel table where we assemble emergency relief boxes is covered by thank-yous on paper plates. I want to press pause on the assembly line of mamas and girls to take these words in. I read a few aloud to J and her friends — words of real people with real bellies a little closer to filled.
I tell J, “We’ve had people give us food when we had none. Family and friends who brought grocery bags. Checks that showed up in our mailbox when Papa was unemployed, and Sici was a baby.”
“Really?” she asks.
As we continue working in the vast room at the Oregon Food Bank, girls lug boxes, scoop, load and weigh with smiles and purposeful strides. I feel the smallness of my task, inserting cooking instructions and twisting bags closed, find my eyes returning to the mama’s words on the wall: “This program is essential for my family’s survival. The last five months these food boxes have literally saved my family from going hungry. Thank You!!”
Near hers is the paper plate of a child, written in crayon: a sunshine, covered by rainbows and carrots and “Thank you for the FOOD!” Another with Chinese characters in black ink, another in Spanish. There are words from a former social worker, from a person struggling to pay medical bills, from a child who said he didn’t eat for days and wondered when the food would come.
After the room of volunteers tapes closed boxes containing 16,696 pounds of rice (representing more than 13,000 meals), J and I head to the grocery store for a late lunch. Our bellies are rumbling.
In the eating area, my girl and I sit side by side, sharing tomato bisque soup, a bagel and salad. As we walk back to the car, I tell her, “Remember that achy feeling when we got here, and we couldn’t wait to eat. What if that feeling just stayed? Imagine how grumpy you’d feel, how overwhelmed, how tired.”
Last night, I served piping hot pasta from a pot and sliced apples with a paring knife and noticed this everyday gift of hunger satisfied by nourishing food.
I remembered a mama somewhere in this state, opening a box again this month and giving thanks.
Perhaps this is where you find yourself today. I am praying for you. Perhaps you find yourself with something to share. Might you consider a financial gift or a gift of time to your local food bank? Volunteering tends to peak during the holidays, but food instability is a year round crisis.
Join me in lifting prayers for all those going without while we recognize the grace gift of all that’s ours.
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