There are some times when I have well thought out planning sessions on paper that involve flow charts and reasoned action. I visualize a big picture, create strategies to arrive at a destination, and bring in others who share my vision to be sure we accomplish what we set out to do. Even when situations appear chaotic, I generally have a plan in mind. Then, there are days like today, when a bold step forward thrusts me headlong into unplanned experience.
I am talking turkey from now until November. Of course, there is a story…
I have been working to balance my time between the research, teaching, and service which I am committed to in my paid employment, and volunteer work with my faith community that has become increasingly important to me. It was almost a year ago that I had a bit of extra time and went to help out at our food pantry one Thursday, instead of just bringing in cans and grocery bags. All donations are a huge help, so I was playing the same important role that so many people do every week. That day, one of the food pantry’s founders, Ray, had died. Our priest at the time had to be at another event, and wondered out loud if I would be willing to say some words about Ray and lead a prayer at food pantry. I said yes, of course.
I was not aware of the plans that would unfold from that Yes.
Something happened that day when I found myself helping in that space. I was so compelled to be present with our clients and volunteers. I kept coming back to help whenever possible, and couldn’t stop thinking about the unmet needs I saw and the ways that I knew social work skills could help. We didn’t have money. I didn’t really have weekly time. But one day, I realized I did have something perhaps more valuable: a few amazing social work friends, and the ability to create a student learning opportunity. Soon, I was planning and organizing a social work presence at the pantry, working with its leaders and workers who were already doing so much for so many. Amazing people came together to make this happen, and now we have a whole group of amazing volunteers and students engaged in helping. My workplace is even supporting some of my time as a supervisor for the field placement. Its a divinely inspired win-win.
The neighborhood where I live and work and worship is a food desert. There aren’t accessible stores for our many low income residents. Food and transportation justice are serious issues that impact people’s ability to break cycles of poverty. We have a person-centered model of helping where our parish hall gets transformed into a grocery store and shoppers assist clients with selecting fresh and non-perishable foods to supply three meals a day for three days, times the number of people living in the household. We add coffee and pastries, cut fruit and lemonade. Those who use the pantry are also encouraged to volunteer at the pantry on weeks they are not picking up food. We have become community, and its (mostly) beautiful.
We have huge challenges, too. Supply doesn’t always meet demand, and sometimes our wholesale suppliers raise prices or stop providing something we consider essential. There are the usual personality challenges, and risk of both volunteer and donor fatigue. We have risen from an average of 50 to nearly 100 households served weekly in the past year. That translates to feeding nearly 300 people each week. Now, as the season changes, we are thinking about Thanksgiving. Just as the turkey topic entered the conversation, the local food bank announced they would not be providing turkeys at wholesale prices any more. Quietly, we have been asking ourselves, “should we do turkeys this year?”
Today, the topic came up again and we realized the price and the financial drain turkeys would cost. At the same time, our clients were already talking about how amazing it is that they can come here and actually receive a turkey that will feed and nourish their family. Even the idea of turkeys was bringing thankfulness and gratitude.
I was speaking with the chair of the food pantry advisory board when I heard myself say: “I will take on the turkeys.”
What?? Did I really say that??
Yes, I did. I did not enter this day with a plan to fundraise for 400 turkeys, but I am leaving this evening with one. I have an in-person and media turkey fund-raising plan emerging, and just ordered 400 cut-out birds on which we will be writing notes of thankfulness with each donation. Giving is a prayer of thanks. Our parish hall will be increasing in turkeys of thanks as we wear our turkey hats and see if we can reach our goal. Enthusiasm is building before the first day of fall even arrives. Look for your opportunity to virtually participate coming soon, because from now until November, I will be talking turkey.
And we will be talking thanksgiving, and gratitude, and abundance.
Today’s small point of light is in the unknown of where this “Yes” will lead…even when talking turkey.