I gingerly stepped around the muddy parking lot. It had rained the night before and left the ground a saturated soggy mess. I glanced at the sign adorning the church campus. “FREE Groceries 4th Saturday of every month” There were quite a few people here, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and I shriveled into myself to blend in. I rooted around my purse to find a pen, questions to be filled out before receiving groceries. I was herded into a church; the only space available was the back pew next to a toothless woman. Her ratted hair hung in tattered strings about her face. Golden tassels adorned her pink dress and clung to her skinny frame as closely as the mental illness which cloaked her mind.
I was kidding myself, this church filled with people was a totally familiar setting, the exception however, was that I was one of them. It wasn’t me leading worship up front, it wasn’t me giving the talk, greeting or ushering people in. No, I was the hungry one, I was the humiliated one, I was the one whose EBT card had run out before the end of the month. I was the one whose Cash Aide was cut by $200.00. I was the abused girl who had gotten pregnant to earn love. I was the young wife who had gotten married to find some security, some sense of worth. I was the one who suffered from the clutches of a ‘welfare system’ that gave enough to get by, but not enough to get out. And I was the one who was caught deep in the trap of low self-worth, low expectations, and a dreamless existence of survival sprinkled with cheap thrill.
I felt somewhat deceived. Didn’t know I had to sit through a service first. Didn’t know that I had to listen to some blond sing about God’s provision and utter Hallelujahs when I knew she lived a life of comfort. She never had to stand in a line for food. I felt uncomfortable by the sermon – He was literally using the illustration of being overweight, of succumbing to sin’s temptation by overeating. And to further drive his point home, he had a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream that he was spooning into his mouth while speaking. I shook my head, this audience, these people, we’re hungry, we’re strapped for cash, we’re struggling, but our struggles go beyond being overweight. We can’t afford the gym membership, we can’t afford Trader Joes organic fare, we don’t want to work out after doing manual labor all day, we don’t have a grocery store within access of our low-income neighborhoods. I bent my head down as I listened to him speak of avoiding internet stumbling blocks, and driving in cars of consumerism- the cultural relevance was totally misplaced, no computers, no cars here…
Row after row we filed out, looped around outside. The little girl next to me kept asking her dad for ice cream. Irritated he exclaimed only the pastor had ice cream, it wasn’t for everyone. I turned in my white slip of crumpled paper, and was handed a double-bagged Food Maxx sack of can food. I could see a damaged box of Fruit Loops sticking out of the top. Just one bag, disheartened, I thought of where else I could go to feed my husband and son for the next week and a half.
Well, it wasn’t me; it was my mentee that I stood beside. But I experienced it, perhaps like she felt it. It depressed me, it felt degrading, it was ugly- this life she lived, this routine she endured. The obvious defeat in between job training, and trying to get work experience. I cannot sum up every story with an answer, with a sweeping statement about the great provisioning love of God. Sometimes, I must shut down my mind and open my heart to feel. I have to stand in line to get free groceries.