“Feed my sheep”
If you read Pastor Eric’s message in Friday’s Weekly Word E-News, you saw the passage from John that reads: “Simon son of John, do you love me? He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep”.
It’s hard to believe that we’re celebrating 3 years since Crossroads Food Pantry opened its door in May 2012. After the idea was approved by the church council, a handful of volunteers renovated a small room in the education wing with new flooring, a new door, stacks of shelves, and then stocked those shelves with a variety of canned and boxed foods. As opening night approached, some wondered if there would be enough food for all who would come, and others wondered --- what if no one came?
But after the first few weeks of welcoming ~ 20-25 patrons, the word got around and soon the numbers rose to more than 50, and continued to rise --- until, by the end of 2012, Crossroads was serving nearly 100 families in and around Suffield. We joined Foodshare, which enabled us to purchase low cost or free food. Then with generous grants from the Zak Fund and other local charitable organizations, we were able to purchase freezers, a refrigerator and other supplies and equipment so that we could store large quantities of meat and other chilled foods when they were available at reduced prices.
And here we are, 3 years later. We have seen the number of patrons fluctuate from about 75 up to a peak of 137. When the numbers start to decline we wonder what’s the matter? Are we doing something wrong? Not advertising enough? And then someone will suggest that maybe it’s a good thing --- maybe more people are getting jobs and don’t need our help ----- and then the numbers go up again.
Recently we asked our patrons to fill out a short survey to tell us why they come to our pantry and what they like best about it. After Pastor Eric reviewed all the comments, he found that they fell into 3 basic categories. As you would expect, the main reason given for coming to the pantry is for the food. It’s pretty simple ---- there are many people --- including some of our neighbors right here in Suffield, who just don’t have enough resources to provide themselves and their families with basic nutritious meals on a daily basis.
When I first began volunteering at the food pantry, I didn’t truly appreciate what that meant – not being able to buy enough food to feed your family every day. It wasn’t like the horrific scenes that are on the news showing starving children in Africa and other places far away from Connecticut. The people who come to Crossroads look pretty much the same as you and me. The new people are often embarrassed and don’t want to make eye contact – they just want to get their food and get out. Others want to tell you their story – how they lost their job, or have huge medical bills.
But as the months and now years have gone by, I’ve gotten to know many of the ‘regulars’. When the line slows down and there’s time to chat with the people as they collect their food, they often share stories about their families and other things going on with their lives. Reflecting on those moments – the conversations with many of the food pantry patrons, my thoughts turn to my own family. Our sons are grown and have their own homes but they come over for Sunday dinner every week. We splurge and cook enough food for leftovers for everyone, plus plenty of wine and more baked goodies than any of us need. But it’s more than the food and drink --- it’s the conversation that’s even more important --- sharing what’s going on in all our lives. The food is just an excuse to get together.
I’ve come to realize that our patrons are not so different from me. They want the same things - to provide for themselves and their family. If I can give of my time to make it a little easier for them, then I’m grateful to do so. I believe Crossroads Food Pantry is a small step toward answering Jesus’ call to --- “Tend My sheep.”
There is an old saying: You only reach God by serving others. Going out of your way for perfect stangers. I remember when I was in my 20's thinking I would enjoy volunteering but wasn't sure of anything that I could do to make much of an impact on someone's life. I didn't realize how little some people had. Or the small things that I could do that would brighten someones day.
I didn't realize that a small group of people dedicated to a cause could make such a difference with not just a persons life but with a community. Volunteering is about helping others but it is also about feeding your soul. Our Food Pantry is here to distribute food to people in need each month. But even more than that, we offer our community the opportunity to come together and give of themselves,
Giving people that opportunity to make a difference. Troop 66 Boy scouts set up our tables in the hall each month and the leaders and a few scouts come on pantry night. The scouts hand out food. The leaders help the elderly out to there cars with their goods. Our middle school has done two foods drives for us. The Catholics at Sacred Heart church have applied for grants for the pantry and the Episcopalians at Holy Trinity in Enfield has someone who is a coupon queen and uses her talents to purchase shampoo toilet paper and other items. Once she has 100 bags filled they bring them over to hand out on Pantry night. Every other Tuesdays the Foodshare truck is here and is manned by many from Sacred Heart church. Those volunteers are now coming to help at Pantry night as well. They belong to the community. They put energy into making the place they live a better place to be for all.
A community is so much more than just a group of people living in a particular area. It is a group of people that we lean on when times are tough.
For our third anniversary our pantry has started a "Giving Tree" which will be located in Fellowship Hall. We will place tags for two or three items which we will be collecting until we receive 100 of them and then we will hand them out at on our Pantry night .
The items will be ones that we are not able to purchase from Foodshare and Patrons are unable to receive with Food Stamps, The tree is located in the hall to invite every group that uses our hall to be able to help someone in need.
There is a prayer for volunteers that I would like to read:
"I thank Thee, Lord as a volunteer
For the chance to serve another year.
And to give of myself in some small way,
To those not blessed as I each day.
My thanks for health and mind and soul,
To aid me ever toward my goal.
For eyes to see the good in all,
A hand to extend before a fall.
For legs to go where the need is great,
Learning to love—forgetting to hate.
For ears to hear and heart to care,
When someone's cross is hard to bear.
A smile to show my affection true,
With energy aplenty—the task to do.
And all I ask, dear Lord, if I may,
Is to serve you better day by day
Hope….Meriam-Webster defines it as “a desire accompanied by expectation of fulfillment”.
Dictionary.com says “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best”. Hope was written by several clients as a response to the question what does the Pantry to them.
The work we do for the Food Pantry gives people in our community Hope. They come in need of food to help them make it through the next day, week or month. When we first opened we started with 15 families and grew to serving over one hundred families each time. Many asked did they need to meet any financial requirements. We said no. Their faces lit up with a smile and a sense of relief. Their Hope of going home that night with food was fulfilled. In fact the only requirement we basically have is that they walk through our door and ask for help. The Bible says “Ask and you shall receive.” We do not pass judgement on them. Some may be in total despair not knowing where their next meal is coming from or they may be in a suit and drive a nice car asking for a helping hand to stretch their paycheck so they can pay their rent or mortgage and not lose their home. Hope gives them reason to carry on. Most of them are the “regulars” and are now our Food Pantry family. Many express their thankfulness each time they come for us being here. It really makes a difference for them. Imagine what it must have been like for them before we existed. However we do Hope that someday we stop seeing them because they have gotten a job or their situation has improved to the point of not needing us.
There is another side to Hope though. Hope as a Christian. As a Christian I was raised to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. To help others whenever you can. I have been very blessed during my life but falling on hard times can happen to anyone at anytime. The families that we serve are part of our community. They are our neighbors and we need to help them. It is God’s will. My Hope as a Christian is that we can fulfill God’s will because …God is Good……All the Time.
Thank you, Carol Kelleher