I live to hear the words, “Can you fill a food order, please?” In my mind, I see myself going down into a lunge. Left knee touches the ground, right arm comes back like I’m starting a lawn mower. “Yesssss!”
I bolt up the stairs, two at a time, to the top floor. I stand in front of the shelves and fill old grocery bags with pasta, peanut butter, cans of soup, and fruit cocktail. I can’t stop grinning because this makes me happy.
It was almost six years ago. I was headed to BB&T. I watched my feet on the sidewalk. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” After awhile, I looked up and instead of being in front of the bank, I was in front of a building that said Loving in big letters.
I reckon it had something to do with Isaiah 58:7. It’d been on my mind for almost two years. “Share your food with the hungry. Clothe the naked.” The words were a shish kebab skewer that poked me under the ribs every time I heard or read them.
I’d been praying. Waiting. Looking for a burning bush. All of a sudden, there it was. But it wasn’t burning, and it wasn’t a bush. It was Christian Help, Incorporated, founded in 1975.
Every Tuesday, more often than not, I drive down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help. I peer up through the blue part of my windshield. “A parking spot right in front would be awesome, God.” Usually it’s there, especially if my trunk is full.
I walk in the front door and say, “Howdy,” to whoever’s at the front desk. Used to be Glinda, before she had a stroke and moved to assisted living. I always hugged her and whispered into her steel-colored curls, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”
She’d cup one of my cheeks with her cool, dry hand and smile up at me. “Good to see you, girlie.”
I love them, all the ladies. I’m going on year six of volunteering and they’ve put in twenty five or more. I work two to three hours a week. Some of them are there every day. They’re all in their seventies, at least. And Spud, who moved here from Jersey, to live with her daughter? She’s ninety something. Reminds me of a grey-haired Jack in a deck of cards.
There’s also Rose and Annie, Sis and Carol too. Ethel and Earlene come on Tuesdays, like me. Glory hallelujah when Ethel brings one of her pound cakes. Thank you, Jesus when we have a pot luck lunch and Earlene brings her sauerkraut with tiny, tasty shreds of pork.
I love the shining, antique faces of the ladies, the way their eyes and teeth flash white when I spring through the doorway of the clothes sorting room. Their smiles say they’re as glad to see me as I am to see them.
I’ve seen a whole lot of staff come and go in six years. That’s the nature of Americorp Vista, usually paid a pittance, workers. But Cheryl, the executive director, has been there since before me. God bless her because running Christian Help requires managing chaos, reassessing the greatest need, the greatest good, Monday through Friday, plus the first Saturday of the month.
Cheryl’s radiant. Maybe she goes to a tanning booth. Or she could be part Native American. Just between you and me, I think it’s because she loves the Lord. Moses glowed when he came down from the mountain of God, you know.
I stopped asking the younger volunteers why they’re at Christian Help. Usually it’s because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I just smile real big and say, “Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here.”
One time a handsome guy, who filled out his t-shirt sleeves, asked me why I volunteer at Christian Help. I’d been waiting for that question, waiting for the chance to give the reason for the hope that I have. I had paragraphs prepared, but they evaporated. “‘Cause I love Jesus.” My voice sounded wee. He squinted at me, head tilted. “Cool.”
To me, serving, volunteering, whatever you want to call it, is like that line in the Jerry Maguire movie: It completes me. For years, I attended Bible study every Friday morning, learned all kinds of neat stuff. But one day, a wise woman’s opinion changed my life. “Bible study is all well and fine, but sooner or later, we have to start doing what Jesus told us to.”
I think serving is to life, what salt is to French fries. I understood that the first time I filled an emergency food order. It was a religious experience. Spud’s the unofficial queen of the food pantry, but she wasn’t there to hear me say, “I’m doing it. I’m feeding Jesus’ sheep.”
I sure hope I’ll still be driving down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help, for another couple decades. After that, much as I love to hear, “Can you fill a food order?” or, “Can you help someone with an interview outfit?” what I long to hear is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But not yet, not until I’m at least as old as Spud.