November 22, 2011

*Gift Card for Groceries, *Anything...

That is what the tag read. I trembled as I picked it from the tree.

You see, every year, around this time, my church does a Twig Tree. A Charlie Brown-esque tree, filled with nothing but tags from folks around the community who could use a little extra. When all the tags are taken, we replace the twig tree with a Christmas tree.

As a Sunday School project, I had my students go and select one boy and one girl from the tree. We're planning an afternoon of shopping followed by a area-wide youth group party/bonfire. They chose a 13 year old boy and 4 year old girl. I was proud of my class as they agreed to spend the early part of their day pre-party shopping and wrapping gifts for those with less. I thought it was a good opportunity for fellowship.

They group the tags by family and so after my class had chosen their recipients, I went back to look if anyone was left out. That's when I spied the purple tag. The mother asking for only food. Or if you wanted to give something else, of course she would be grateful. My eyes welled with tears. To think that during this season of plenty, that her specific request was a way to feed her family? As I try to figure out if we should get our children another video game or electronic gadget? It was humbling. It was nothing I personally can relate to, or at least not much.

There was a time, while I wasn't hungry, I was at the mercy of the system. When I was in middle school, there was a short period of time when my brothers and I had to use the free-lunch tickets. It was humiliating. It was during the time when my parents' marriage was breaking up and truth be told, I don't know why we qualified for free lunches, but there was something in the paperwork that allowed it to happen. Mama, ever the resourceful one, figured that if we qualified, she wasn't going to pass it up. I think the way support was paid didn't show as income at that time. Whatever the reason, everyday, for 3 years, I had to walk to the office, get what seemed to be a glowing neon FREE LUNCH ticket, and present it for a midday meal. One of the boys said to me, "I thought you were rich". While I silently thought, "So did I",  I didn't have a reply for him. Instead the next few months, I stopped eating lunch, although I graciously accepted whatever my friends were prepared to throw out.

You see, I don't truly know what it's like to be hungry or poor, but I tiptoed the line and walked in those shoes.  I know how dehumanizing it can be and how others look down on you. I know how I was looked down on and I was only 12. I was a kid and felt the arrogance and elitism of those who didn't have to use the FREE LUNCH tickets. I've never forgotten how that felt and I never want to.

When I read about a mother wanting nothing more than food for groceries, my heart tugs. I image all the things that may happen when she gets that gift. Will she pack her children a lunch? Will she enjoy a meal of food of her choosing versus what is available at the food bank or soup kitchen? How many of us even consider the ability to choose what we are going to eat a LUXURY? It's something we take for granted. We open the pantry or refrigerator and gaze at an abundance.

Yet, for many of our brothers and sisters, that just isn't the case. A friend of mine who is one of the "working poor" quite honestly posted recently about how tired she was of eating rice with sugar in the morning and salt at night. By the way, this person works 60+ hours a week. By the time the rent and gas is paid? Just isn't a lot left. Sure her family eats. Rice. With sugar or salt depending on the time of day. She went to the food bank and was given a can of icing. No cake. But someone generously donated a can of icing.

I would like to help the lady on my anonymous tree tag and a few others who I know are struggling. I'm not a non profit, I'm no organization. I'm simply someone who knows that whatsoever you do, for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. Let's do something for the least of us. (Matthew 25:40)

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