For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink. (Mt 25:35)
The items come trickling in a few a time. Parishioners turn in the food items as they go into Church. This goes on all year long at my parish to support our parish food pantry, begun twenty years ago to help support the poor in our urban neighborhood. People who need it can come for food, no questions asked. While no one food item would be enough to make much of a dent in the hunger of our community, the collective efforts of many do make a tremendous difference. Perhaps this is most true at Thanksgiving when a concerted effort is made to fill at least 100 boxes to the brim with food for a Thanksgiving feast for those who need it most.
The Monday evening before Thanksgiving is dedicated to sorting the food and preparing the baskets. A huge group of parish volunteers come to help. From pre-schoolers to those in their 90s, there is a task for everyone. Various pews are set aside for each type of food. There are rows for canned vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, cake mixes, baked beans, pasta, potatoes, and every other item you could want for a Thanksgiving meal, with some left over. There is even a collection of baby food for those with infants. One group of volunteers is in charge of emptying the bags of food and putting them in the appropriate pews. Others stay in the pews to organize the food and check expiration dates to make sure all the food is good. The younger children are put to work counting out potatoes and putting them into bags. Once all the food is sorted, parishioners line up with boxes and make the rounds of the church, getting one or two of each item placed in the boxes. These boxes will be picked up on Tuesday along with a turkey to help provide a happy Thanksgiving for 100 families.
Being part of this evening always brings tears to my eyes. There is such a sense of community spirit as our parish gathers together to help feed the poor. No one person could ever make this happen. It takes the work of many. Every person who contributes, from those who bring in a single can of food, to those who donate money for the turkeys, to those who provide the plastic bags and boxes, to those who physically help sort the food and load the boxes, makes this effort possible. Those boxes are filled with more than just food — they are filled with love and concern for our neighbors. In the face of all the poverty in the world, it may seem like just a drop in the bucket — not enough to make a difference at all, but for those families whose lives we touch it does make a very real difference. Not only will they not go hungry on Thanksgiving, but they also know that a whole bunch of people care. They are not forgotten.
Similar efforts go on at parishes and civic groups across our nation. We stand together to live out the gospel message to feed our neighbors, and in so doing, feed the body of Christ. At least temporarily, we can provide freedom from want.