This week’s serve was a menagerie of disparate events.
It started in team meeting with my relating a voicemail that had been left on our machine in the office by a client. Her call was not pertaining to her own recent visit, but her daughter’s. I’d classify this particular client as a person who does a great job at protecting her heart. Kinda tough on the outside, and doesn’t indicate need or vulnerability, even when she’s visiting the pantry for food she needs.
I wasn’t surprised to hear her words of gratitude for the Storehouse. We hear that quite a bit from clients, and have heard it from her, too. But her gratitude was centered on how well we’d served her daughter. Apparently, on the hour long ride to her home, her daughter had shared her amazement at how kind everyone had been to her and how tenderly and gracefully she’d been treated. Mom became more emotional as the message went on.
The grace of our King Jesus, through ,our volunteers had touched her daughter’s heart, and it was almost more than her mom’s heart could bear.
Much later in the day, we actually had a mom and daughter shop in the pantry together. A volunteer found me to share what had been going on in the dry food room. She had witnessed the daughter shopping, while the mom secretly stashed food items in bags she’d brought with her.
We stood outside the cold food room. “Is that them?” I asked. Our Case Management staff knows this duo well. They are homeless and deal with a bit of mental illness and drug addiction. My heart wanted to approach the mom and make her open her bags. I sometimes find myself falling into the “grace for me, law for everybody else” trap believers can so easily slip into.
I don’t understand why they both weren’t shopping. Our rule for households is that only one person per household can shop. We strive to steward every precious food donation to feed as many households as possible. But do two people in a tent or a big cardboard box constitute a household? This will definitely be a bullet point at our next pre-serve team meeting.
A client asked about hoses for a washing machine. “I have a machine at home; we just don’t have any hoses.” The last time my home needed washer hoses, I just went down to Lowes and bought them. But our clients don’t have resources like I do. Nor the same opportunities.
I could have sworn I remembered seeing a pair of hoses left behind in a part of the campus we no longer occupy. I was right, and another need was met.
Later, we served a transgender female. Our volunteer called the masculine name written on the shopping card. She said it more like a question, with a quizzical look on her face.
“That’s my legal name,” the client replied in a noticeably husky voice while gazing at the floor.
Our personal shopper smiled, caught his eyes with hers and said, “Come on, let’s start shopping.” And they disappeared into the hygiene room.
It is our great hope to serve each one of our clients in such a way that any of their mommas could leave a voicemail on our machine, through tears, about how well their child had been treated and cared for in the Storehouse.
Then a man I’d never met walked up, shook my hand, and said he was from another pantry here in town located in one of our city’s churches. He just wanted to come by and see how we serve clients. I took him on a tour and several times he expressed amazement at what we do. It was his first time to visit a client choice pantry, where clients don’t get a pre-packaged box of food, but actually shop as though in a store.
The coolest moment came when we were in the cold food room. It’s chaos in there, but every person of the group (sometimes ten or eleven people) knows what’s happening and what they’re doing. I explained that shopping and grocery bagging happens here. “And then, a volunteer offers to pray for our clients.”
As if on cue, a volunteer bowed his head with a client. There, in the midst of chaos, two people stood before the throne of grace.
We have served exactly 400 clients in four serves. I don’t know if there is a hungry person in Faulkner County who is aware of the StoreHouse that hasn’t already been served by us in October. But we’ll find out next Thursday, on Halloween night. The ladies softball team from Central Baptist College will be our night crew so our regular volunteers can serve at holiday events at their churches, or accompany children as they trick-or-treat, or just rest.
By the way, if you’re reading this in your browser, over on the right > you’ll see a link to our Amazon Wish List. We’ve fancified that spot. I’d love for you to just check it out. If you do decide to gift us, please go to smile.amazon.com for that. You can choose the Ministry Center as a recipient and then Amazon will send us a little of the purchase price. A double blessing!
Thank you so for loving and supporting our clients. You’ve blessed them in countless ways.
Last week, we served 119 families, and 20% of them were new to the Storehouse. That’s 23.8 families!! Probably more like 23 or 24. That’s a lot! We served 111 this week. And again, a lot of those families were new. I always wonder and usually want to know how some of them ended up in the Storehouse.
And most of them are women. Women I don’t know. And so I need a opening line, something to break the ice, something that doesn’t sound too intrusive for a stranger to walk right up and say. So, I’ve settled on,
“How did you hear about us?”
It’s a safe question. So safe, in fact, that clients never give the short answer. They never just say, “A friend,” or some other agency. They start right into their story. I just lost my job, my fiancé is in jail, I’ve got custody of my grandkids. The stories are varied, but have one distinct thing in common... We’re suddenly in deep need.
One of our new clients had come with his dad. He and his family had relocated from Texas. His dad suddenly had 5 more people to feed. During registration, the dad, late 60s, explained they didn’t know a thing about getting help at pantries. They’d never been to one, or ever thought they would. The client’s wife had found a job, and he was looking. He would have applied online for a job at Goodwill, but he still had 14 pins in his right forearm. And a metal bar on the outside. That would come off in a couple of weeks. Then he could get a job.
He’d been run off the road in Texas. On a mountain road. When a couple of trees stopped his car, his forearm was shattered, as well as his right orbital bone, the one around the eye, which now holds its own surgical hardware.
After shopping, our clients go to their vehicles and drive around to the back parking lot. When they arrive, we take their groceries out and load them into their cars. Often, the shopper is not the driver, or two shoppers are riding in one car. In that case, one shopper will wait at the door. That’s where I found a lady yesterday morning.
Her head was down as she was reading through a book. It’s a little book. It’s the one the check-out volunteers, who also pray for clients, give away to shoppers before they leave. It’s the book of John; written for the purpose of introducing the reader to Jesus.
We talk about this moment, and these little books, with people and pastors who are interested in learning about what more we do in the Storehouse than give away food. I seized the moment and asked her if I could take her picture, as an example of that very thing, and publish it through our social media. She quickly agreed and signed a release. Then she began her story.
“My husband recently died. We were like this,” she said as she took the little book in one hand and then held them less than an inch apart. “I just miss him so, and I’ve been adrift since he left.
“I know Jesus is in my heart. I just can’t seem to get settled. And I can't wait to get home and read this all the way through.”
Our returning clients have stories too.
Last month, we broke one of our rules, when, one Thursday, a late 50s lady came to the Storehouse near the end of the day. She’s been here plenty of times, but always alone. This time, her husband was with her. He didn’t look too well. He’d just finished radiation treatments and he hasn’t very steady on his feet.
She asked how long the wait would be, and when we told her, she said they would just leave. They live outside of Conway and couldn’t wait. So we checked her in and let them shop immediately. They gushed their gratitude.
She was back yesterday and I asked how her husband was doing. She said a few months ago he’d thought he had bitten his tongue. His PCP referred him to an Ear, Nose and Throat. A week later, he was talking to an oncologist. The following week, he was in surgery.
For face and neck cancers, the teeth are removed. The integrity of the jaw is lost in the surgeries and chemo. Plus, the radiation had burned his throat. The only way he could eat was through a feeding tube. So, hydration was an issue. For over two weeks, they’d driven to UAMS every day. It was maddening. But things were better now. More calm.
She thanked me for asking about her husband.
I never get tired of hearing the stories of those we serve.
Can you help?
In the third quarter, we averaged 12 more families per serve than we did in the first half of the year. That’s an extra 50-60 clients a month. We served twelve times in the quarter. Four times we broke 100 families, both times on consecutive weeks. We’re tired and we’ve been hot.
Have I mentioned only one of the twin air conditioning units in the building works?
But the stress on our volunteers hasn’t been as much as the stress on our warehouse. We order food from the Arkansas Food Bank each month and they deliver on the third Monday for a nominal fee. In the third quarter we received almost 15000 pounds of food from them. Our last order was dropped on Monday, September 23. This past Thursday, on our second serve since receipt, Debbie asked, not knowing our delivery schedule, when we would receive our next order. Most of what we’d ordered was already gone.
I am the Storehouse Director and get the privilege of writing about the people that Jesus loves.
Contact Mike Rush at firstname.lastname@example.org for all things "Volunteer".
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