When I first started this yearlong journey, I started off with a simple corporal act of mercy: Feed the hungry. However, it isn’t always so easy to do so, when our emotions and thoughts get in the way. We sometimes don’t want to give a homeless person on the street food because “why can’t they just get a job and stop begging? They are liars.”
These thoughts that invade our mind do more harm than good and come from an evil source. It takes all the willpower we have inside to block them out as we help the less fortunate, no matter if they are liars or not.
So, in addition to the easy task of donating food to our local food pantry, my husband and I decided to start volunteering once a month at Catholic Harvest Food Pantry. This pantry allows those who need food to “shop” through the store with a volunteer to get the items they need and want.
When we arrive, we got a rundown of the schedule: We take the person in need, who has a slip of their family size, and loop them through the aisles with a cart and some boxes. Each pile of food and other items have a tag that lists how much they are allowed. Some just say “2 items per family.” Some items have a scale, where a family size of 3 would only get one item, but a family of 5 would get two, etc. Some tags even say “2 items per person”, so if there is a family of 5, the person can take 10 items. As we guide the person around, we ask “do you want this? You can have 2. Do you like this? You can take 2 per person, so 10 items.”
That night I only had one woman I worked with, who had a partner and 3 kids. Some items she passed up, like cereal. I thought, “Why would she ignore and reject FREE food that her family clearly needs?” But in other moments, I realized my privilege, where I can go to the grocery store and pay a lot of money for the best toilet paper and for non-aluminum deodorant. This woman was looking for some deodorant, something that would make her feel fresh. It is such a simple thing I take for granted as I look at items in a grocery store to see which item I WANT, not NEED.
And, going back to her “rejection” of food: Where is it my place to judge this person, who is allowed to have food preferences? If her kids won’t eat cereal, why should she take it and let it go to waste? I don’t like certain foods either, and when I go grocery shopping, I don’t buy them. How is this any different?
After that first experience, I was immediately enlightened. This was a moment to serve another person, and this person isn’t required to beg, plead and jump through hoops just so she can get food for her family of five. She deserves to have a moment of being taken care of, to have someone serve her.
That is human decency. That is being Jesus to others.