Last week I wrote about the joy and agony of loving and shared some moments with clients from last week’s serve that weighed on my heart. But I didn’t share what began that thread in me.
I was in the warehouse, well after serve had begun. And I was wrestling with our food quantity. Well, that’s not actually true. Our food, for the most part, is pretty passive. I was actually wrestling with my feelings about how we’ll continue to feed our increasing number of clients with our dwindling stash of food.
Specifically, I was staring at the pasta sauce. It’s a hot item and clients take almost 200 cans a month. When Feed the Need concluded, we had an entire pallet of Hunt’s 24 oz. cans of the stuff in those pretty red labels. There must have been five different varieties and I thought we’d never run out. But we did.
By 9:15 a.m. I was outside in the line of clients, registering them for the day’s serve. Among them was a young mom; bright, happy, kid on her hip. We’ve served her many times.
The door opens and clients stream in. I turn registration over to Barbara and begin making the rounds. I touch base with all the serving areas and return to the door. For the first hour, or longer, this will be the most congested place, the most probable spot for tension or client discontent.
The doorbell rings and it’s the bright young mom, alone this time. She’s wanting to know how leaving and returning is handled.
“The school called. My son threw up, so I had to go get him. They won’t let students stay if they throw up. He’s not sick; he just threw up. I dropped him off at home.”
She hears, “Well normally, when someone leaves, they go to the end of the line when they come back.”
That’s easily 30 places from her original spot in our sign-up line.
Then, “Come on, we’ll work you in.”
As I am sometimes able to do, I had coffee with a volunteer before we served on Thursday. I was tired, and he said I looked so. And that was not completely due to the fact I’d been awake since 4:15 that morning.
Being in and out of the heat these past four weeks had begun and continued to take a toll on my body; and my spirits. I finally choked out my feelings. “I think I’m bored in my work at the Storehouse,” I said.
And now I’m not so sure that bored was the appropriate word. I mean, there is plenty to do. The first two Storehouse directors were in part-time positions and I can’t comprehend how they did it. Because, there is plenty to do. And much of that is interesting. I enjoy seeing and speaking to the local donors that share food with us. I like handling donations and dealing with numbers. And I so enjoy our volunteers and clients. They are really interesting! Both groups!
Maybe a better word would have been defeated. No, wait, it’s ineffective. Yes, that’s the word.
We have lost all sense of normalcy.
Which I guess is better than losing all sense of decency, but I’ve always thought that was a little overrated. And too, it was my loss of feigned decency that opened the door to my eventual working with hungry, dirty, pungent, and precious clients in the Storehouse.
However, I digress.
“Mike, there’s a raccoon in the warehouse.”
Now, really, can people control what is going to happen in their day? Some of us plan and others don’t, but aren’t we all just responding, moment by moment to what comes at us?
I once heard some philosophical guru say, “We don’t live life. It lives us.”
And, although he was pretty lost about everything else, he might have been spot on with that one.
News of our furry visitor was one of the first things I heard on Tuesday, the day we stock the pantry. On Wednesday, he, or she, left the warehouse with the help of Conway’s Animal Control department.
The only damage to goods through that entire ordeal was a partially eaten package of chicken-flavored Ramen. It was on the bottom shelf and the raccoon had pulled it to the floor, torn it open, and then walked away after having only had a bite. Apparently, even a raccoon knows the nutritional benefit of Ramen is suspect.
I’m on day 437 of a read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year program.
I’ve recently finished First Kings, the end of which tells the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. For those of you not up on that tale, I’ll recap it here. Elijah had prayed that it wouldn’t rain. And it didn’t. For three years. Then he challenges the false prophets of the false god, baal, to a show down on Mount Carmel. 450 of them show up and beg baal to light a fire on the wood they’ve piled up. They even dance and cut themselves.
When nothing happens, Elijah taunts them and then takes his turn. He commands servants to bring water, a most precious commodity in a three year draught, and pour it on the wood. Then they dig a trench around the pile and the water fills that up. Then Elijah prays. BAM! Fire from heaven. It burns up the wood, it vaporizes the water. It demonstrates real power, real authority, genuine sovereignty.
And I wondered, again, why Elijah poured water all over the altar. But this time I realized it was about making what was to follow even more impossible in the human perspective.
At the Ministry Center we constantly wade through what seems possible and impossible. And in the Storehouse too.
Jesus had something to say about the impossible. All three synoptic gospels tell the story of the discussion about wealthy people and heaven. In at least one case, he’s been talking to a wealthy fellow and suggested that he give away all he had. Then there’s the whole “camel passing through the eye of a needle” thing. Jesus senses their dismay with the entire concept and finally says, “With man this is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.”
And of course, my fleshy heart reads that as anything I want to do that I think would please God is possible. There is not enough paper for me to journal all the experiences when I’ve gotten out ahead of Jesus, doing something that He never asked me to do, something that is absolutely not my part.
But we believe the Storehouse is a gift from God. It’s His. And we get to join Him in His work there.
And we wonder what’s possible. And impossible.
I was standing in the cold food room when a volunteer from our computer desk stepped into the doorway; frantic, wild-eyed, waving me toward her. “Mike you’ve got to come! A client has passed out.” Then she took off down the hallway. I was close behind her.
The scene inside the client waiting room was also frantic. Panic-stricken. Our client was out of her chair; one of the wide walkers that also has a seat. But she was only partly out. Her knees were on the floor, her body being held upright by other clients.
I stepped back into the hall through which I could see all the way down to the cold food room, where I spotted Marguerite. I yelled her name several times. She’s an RN. Not long after that, someone yelled for Cleve, also a volunteer in the cold food room. He’s an RN as well, but spent the bulk of his career as a nurse anesthetist.
Someone said, “She’s completely out, Mike. You have to call 911.”
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.
Have you ever heard the story about the deer on the island? It’s an interesting lesson in abundance and scarcity, two economic terms about which I know precious little.
There was this land mass, upon which scads of deer grazed, that eventually suffered an epic weather event causing part of it to be completely surrounded by water; and island. And, as there were no natural predators and plenty of vegetation, they survived and populated the space where they lived.
As the population grew, the deer ate more of the vegetation and eventually there was not enough to support the size of the herd.
Whereupon, the deer population began a period of attrition.
Whereupon, the vegetation began to increase.
Which caused an increase in the deer population, until such time as the vegetation could no longer support it.
And on and on.
At the Storehouse, we’re trying to determine if July is an outlier, which is a statistics term about which I know even precious littler. Or if it’s the new normal. We served 120, and then 100. And last night we served 85, when our previous highest evening serve had been 64. In fact, not long ago, 85 was a great daytime serve when we had four hours instead of three.
And I’m on my face at the foot of the cross, asking Jesus some pretty critical questions, the greatest of which is possibly, what is our tipping point? What will be the thing or things that cause client attrition? Will clients quit coming because…
Like many good rituals in the Old Testament, our day began with animal sacrifice. Well, that’s not completely true. The sacrifice had already happened. Our day began with the detritus, which is a fifty dollar word for the puke-making stench of rotting residue.
See, we get food items that are too large for distribution. The case in this point was a 40 pound block of frozen chicken legs. They had thawed in the kitchen cooler so we could rebag them. But the bag leaked and the blood ran into the drip pan below, right next to the hot air blower. And it stayed there. For days.
Highest honors to Cat and Kathy for working the morning hours in that wretchedness. Of course, we did what we could, but they could barely breathe. I emptied the pan. We wiped and toweled. Someone went for bleach. Then they couldn’t breathe for a new reason.
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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