Breaking Bread

When I woke on this second full day of autumn, the skies were gray and the possibility of rain hung in the air like a wet blanket. My daughter was tired and took her temperature four times, hoping that she could go back to bed instead of to school. Unfortunately for her, that strategy isn’t productive when you’re not sick. I could empathize, though, because it was the kind of day that makes you feel tired just from living. We both pushed through. I sliced her a piece of pumpkin bread and wrapped it in a paper towel as we rushed off to school.

Give us this day our daily bread.

I arrived at our food pantry a bit later than usual, after running a few errands in the neighborhood. Immediately, I regretted my decision when it was clear that we were way behind in our set up from usual. I quickly put down my bags and got to work. I dragged out canned goods, bins of potatoes, boxes of cantaloupes. Those of us there worked until the last minutes before the doors opened. I sliced up the donated pastries, gleaned by ever-faithful Andrea from a local bakery, into bite-sized pieces. Our quantity was somewhat smaller than usual today, but as I cut up the scones, cinnamon buns, muffins and raisin bread, the melody of a familiar setting of the Lord’s Prayer formed in my mind. I hummed as I composed trays that looked inviting and hospitable while talking with our hospitality volunteers and sharing stories of the nursing, teaching, and professional helping we do in the world outside these walls. Six trays of pastries took shape to go along with the coffee that was brewing. I thought to myself, “there will be enough…”

Give us this day our daily bread.

The parish hall had been transformed into our grocery store and hospitality center. While over a hundred people found their way into the parish hall, there were only a few shoppers to help at the pantry when we began. Someone wondered out loud if we would have enough food, and if there would be enough help. Eventually, a few more volunteers came in, and some additional canned goods and other donations began to appear as the first clients walked through and shopped for what they needed. The coffee was flowing, the pastries were being enjoyed. People began to talk, and some warmth began to emerge.

It was still a sluggish day, and there were honestly as many unhappy guests as happy ones. Life is challenging in a difficult economy, in an area of the city with few resources. I had several people who just needed to tell their stories, and a few who needed to cry. My attention was averted when two older women almost tipped over a cart trying to get it to their car, and suddenly a sea of helping hands reached out to assist. They had dropped a package of bread at the doorstep in the process and had overlooked it while repackaging. As I helped them load bags into their car, a man came running to return their fallen bread. They thanked him, and offered him one of the cupcakes they had just obtained in the line. That is how pantry is: its a community. As if reading my mind, one of the clients said, “this place always reminds me of that story of Jesus feeding the 5,000” and her friend echoed back, “oh, yes Lord!” I laughed. I said to them, “it reminds me that it took that whole community to feed each other, just like it does here. Maybe that was the miracle Jesus was showing us.” We all hugged, and went on with our busy morning.

Give us this day our daily bread.

One by one, all were eventually served. We flipped through our 100 numbers and started recycling all over again. The last family I served had a beautiful two month old, and we just happened to have some extra baby food and formula to send with them. I laughed in spite of the cloudy grayness. I suddenly remembered that the delicious smell making my stomach rumble was my friend and co-volunteer Jen cooking up homemade soup from scratch for all the volunteers who had been serving. She scooped up the remaining partial loaves left from the table after the last client finished shopping.

We put away the pantry except for two long tables and about a dozen chairs. The leftover bread, sliced, was enough to fill two baskets. The soup warmed and soothed our bodies and nourished our souls. My social work student said he hadn’t eaten that many vegetables in a year (or perhaps ever) and he couldn’t wait to call and tell his Mom. We were breaking bread, talking social work, sharing meal and vocational ministries. At the table were clients and students and staff and volunteers. All of us breaking bread together, after feeding our community. Jen’s vegetables transformed into nourishment. We all had enough, and we were fed, bodies and spirits, at that table.

Give us this day our daily bread.

There is a not only a small point of light here, but a miracle of the daily ordinary. Feeding and being fed is liturgy, the prayerful work of the people who give and receive, who feed and are fed.

Give us this day our daily bread.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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