It was a series of goofy circumstances that led me to bring donuts and cooked chicken to the Storehouse this morning about 6:40 am. When I got to the building, I could see a half dozen cars in the lot, and several people in the line. They looked settled in; some of them must have arrived around 6:30.
Three hours before we open the door.
Not all of them brought chairs. Are the rest going to stand for three hours, I wondered. And what about bathroom. Aren’t they going to need a bathroom?
And I wondered what it is that brings these people here, so early, to stand in line for three hours.
In the nine-o’clock team meeting, I said to our folks, some of whom have been serving nearly every week since we opened now over three years ago, that if they needed some time off, or wanted to go to an every other week schedule, we had the volunteers to cover that. They should just let me know.
But in my mind, I wondered the same thing about them that I had wondered about our clients almost three hours prior. What is it that compels these people to come each week?
Aloud, I said that if anyone was feeling an obligation to keep serving then I wanted to release them from that. But if it was the joy of this place that kept them coming, then they should keep on coming.
We believers know that God is always at work in us and on us and that it may just be His Spirit is the One who is calling us here to serve. And who is to say that it isn’t His Spirit who calls our clients to come stand in line at 6:30 and be in community with each other?
And how do we know it’s not our spirits, longing to spend the day with Him in the Storehouse, who brings us all, volunteers and clients alike?
At some point, we began giving our clients something to eat when they enter the Storehouse. We call it the blessing, as in, when we forget or don’t know if someone got cookies, we say, “Have I blessed you?” or “Here, let me bless you.”
Today, I hadn’t blessed a young female client and when I said, “I forgot to bless you,” as I handed her a bag of cookies, she said, “Oh, y’all bless me every time I walk through the door.”
We have a new title for Candy, our former director. We have roles for every person who serves in the Storehouse, from greeter to carry-out, and all the folks in between, if you serve in the Storehouse, what you do has a role name. And recently, we’ve been calling Candy our Congenialist. She was really performing the role before she was given the title. She’s been making sure out pantry is congenial. Sometimes we call her Miss Congeniality, but that sounds a little too pageant like and also she doesn’t get to wear a sash.
Today, a young couple came in with a toddler in her Mickey Mouse onesy. The little one held a Mickey Mouse doll. But she was also occasionally upset and fussy. And suddenly, she was in front of our Congenialist. Candy played with and teased her. She tugged on the Mickey doll and eventually got it from the little one. “Mickey! Where Mickey?!” she asked her parents. Candy teased and cajoled this little girl while her parents waited to shop.
And I thought to myself, if anyone wonders what a Congenialist is, this is it.
Later in the day, a brand new family came to the Storehouse. Mom, Dad, and 4 well-behaved children came in together. The children politely introduced themselves to Deborah, who covered Greeter and Hostess at that point. Dad stayed in the waiting room with the children. I personal-shopped with mom. I did the requisite explaining a first timer needs. She made thoughtful choices in the dry-food room. When we stepped into the hall, the place where personal-shoppers leave clients for their turn in the cold food room, I asked if she had been an athlete in high school. She said she had. I asked if I could try to guess her sport and she said sure. I first guessed power-forward on the basketball team. And I was right! Then I guessed 220 or 440 in track.
“Oh, no running. Later, in the military, but not in high school. I did play tennis and golf.”
She graduated from Pine Bluff high school.
Twenty minutes later, I realized the front door was open, which violates our policy of doing all we can to keep the Storehouse cool. My client’s family had just left and was walking to their car. That’s when another volunteer said that the man was actually her brother. I suddenly realized what had happened in this client’s life since she wore her cap and gown one May evening in Pine Bluff.
I wondered aloud, “What does a woman do when she marries a guy, has four children, and then can’t live with him anymore?”
The other volunteer said, “She lives with her brother.”
In the night-before email to our volunteers, I told them straight up that I was praying we wouldn’t have 100 clients today. One of them later told me that 115 clients would be an actual answer to my prayer. So, I’ll be more specific moving forward.
And, blessedly, we didn’t have 100. In fact, there were several times when our waiting room was empty. Then it would have five or six clients. They just kept coming and being served. We finished with 86, which is a good day for our pantry. Enough clients to keep us busy, but not so many we wonder when we’ll ever get home.
One thing about this day we will not soon forget is the treat set out for volunteers in the kitchen. When I took this job, I didn’t know anything about that. Finally, a volunteer pointed out that the director always prepares a little something for volunteers to munch on through the serve. They can’t eat in front of our clients, so once the serve begins, they won’t have anything to eat until well after 1:30. Unless I set something aside for them.
I’m getting better at this.
And today, the treat was ice cream that was in damaged containers. Sea Salt Caramel Toffee, Death by Chocolate, Neapolitan, and Brookie, a chocolate delicacy with brownie and cookie bits, were in a bag in a box on the counter. We rustled up some kind of containers and spoons, napkins, and serving spoons. A couple at a time, our volunteers snuck into the kitchen for a bowl of ice cream.
Jesus loved us all well today.
He will next week too.
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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