A Place at the Table: Day 5

Monday – This morning I decided to try dividing up my pasta into two portions: one to eat late morning, one to eat mid-afternoon  I wanted to see if that might make getting to dinner a little easier. I was also facing a situation I was unsure of how to handle.

My church, First Baptist Hyattsville, serves lunch to the needy in our community four times a year.  Other churches in the area provide free midday meals most weekdays and have for years.  But in the late-1980s, our church learned that no meals were served on four of the Monday federal holidays: Martin Luther King Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.  FBCH decided to fill those gaps so no one would have to go hungry just because government offices were closed, and Holiday Cafe was born.

One of the traditions we have at Holiday Cafe is that those who provide the food and help serve eat together after all the guests have been fed (assuming there is food left over, and most of the time there is).   The question facing me was: should I eat or not?  Something about it didn’t seem consistent with the idea of fasting. On the other hand, if I were subject to my minimum wage food allowance truly ($1.07 per meal – $3.21 per day!), I think I would be seeking out free meals like Holiday Cafe to help me get by.  Eating a plate of food was not going to cost me anything.  Still, I was uneasy about it.  By the time I got ready to head out the door, I still had not made up my mind so I decided to eat a little pasta (with tomato sauce only) to help me have clearer focus in my deliberations.  I figured if I sat in the fellowship hall with an empty stomach surrounded by trays of pulled pork barbecue and homemade fried chicken, I would be easy prey to the voices urging me to eat, regardless of what I ultimately decided.

My strategy worked.  I was not overly hungry while I helped serve food and chatted with our guests while they ate.  In the end, all the barbecue and fried chicken got eaten so I didn’t have to make a decision.  I did take home five apples I was offered.  The church member who offered them to me has been following this blog and said, “you don’t have any fruits and veggies for the week; why don’t you take these?”  So I did – with thanks.  When I got home, I ate the rest of my pasta (topped with chicken this time) around 2:30pm.  Making it to 6:00pm was much easier from there.

Shortly after I finished eating, my wife called to say she found a bag of coffee on clearance at Marshall’s for $3.00.   Score!   She asked me if I wanted her to buy it and I said yes.   It’s a light roast, which isn’t something I usually like, but IT’S COFFEE and with the remaining money have (after paying my wife back $3.00 for the coffee) I should have just enough to get some half-n-half.  (And I mean just enough.  If there is tax charged, I won’t be able to get it; but there shouldn’t be since it’s not a prepared food).

Dinner tasted so good.  I ate two hotdogs (no bun), a mess of fries, and a couple of servings of green peas. I got hungry again around 11:30pm, so I had a bowl of cereal.  I honestly don’t know how I would live on $3.21 a day.

I went to bed thinking more about Holiday Cafe – not whether I should have eaten or not, but about access.  If I was working 38 hours a week at a minimum wage job, would I have been able to get to Holiday Cafe even if I knew about it?  It would all depend on my schedule, bus routes, and where my job was located in relation to the church.  No doubt it would be a BIG help to me, but chances are I would not be able to take advantage of it unless “the stars aligned” just right.   That bothers me, and adds nuance to the phrase “the plight of the poor.”

Lord, thank you for midnight snacks.  Continue to help me not to take such things for granted.  And please open our eyes to see the poor among us – and their needs.  Teach us love, mercy, and compassion and show us how we can better minister to them in Your Name.  Amen.

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