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’m going to write the regular Thursday after-serve article, but there are really no words for what happened in the Storehouse today. We served 124 families that Jesus loves. Our old highest was 101. We’d been close several times before, but today was completely off the charts.
The day began for me when I drove by the entrance to bring this morning’s donated food around the back. I was surprised when my eyes filled with tears. It had been two weeks since we’d served, three since a daytime serve. There was a line of maybe 40 people already. A couple of wheelchairs and walkers were in the mix; several had brought their own chairs to sit while they waited. Obvious broken bodies; not so obvious broken hearts.
Well, if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s the calendar.
Our Storehouse serves on Thursdays. And I probably should have looked over the entire year to see what days of importance landed on a Thursday in 2019, but I didn’t. I’ve been playing this week by week.
But a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized the 4th of July landed on a Thursday. And when I asked our volunteers about serving, most of them said they would be away with family and friends.
Yesterday was the last Thursday in June. So, you guessed it, we served in the evening.
It was our third evening serve.
And we served 64, the most for an evening serve, and it was a good night. But numbers aren’t what make it good. Of course, they’re important. At the end of a serve, you can hear the question being asked by volunteers all over the Storehouse. How many? How many?
But it was good because people who care and love ended up in the same place with people who need care and love. And, of course, food.
And that’s always good. When the people who love Jesus are paired with the People That Jesus Loves, it’s good. The Holy Spirit shows up. He gives the givers grace to give. He gives the receivers hearts to receive it.
But not everyone shows up in a good mood, you know. Or with a grateful spirit. Or thankful. Most of them do, nearly all of them. But some of them are indifferent. Shopping with us is just another thing they have to do, possibly between two other things they have to do.
They’re tired, and harried, and last night, they were hot.
I stepped out to register clients fifteen minutes before we opened. I worked my way down the line, greeting clients, explaining to new ones, and basically enjoying them all. Then I stood in front of a lady who was covered in sweat.
I got her name and birth date, and then she said, “I think I’m going to throw up.”
Forgive me. Our weekly Storehouse blog is late. It’s my fault. I’ve had a bad case of the grandkids this the second half of the week. Well, it was actually a good case.
If our pantry was a human, it would be a junior high kid. Probably eighth grade. If you’ve got one in your house right now, you have a front row seat to the characteristics: wide swings in mood, capable of powerful affection, petty, insecure, creative, angry, and trying to figure out an identity….
And our pantry, through the broken places in my heart, is all those things, at least behind the scenes. It’s our volunteers, the heartbeat of Jesus, who make sense of the madness each week.
In our pre-serve team meeting, we stressed again that our pantry does not deliver food to clients, and we don’t offer rides to clients, either to or from our pantry.
“We don’t do these things…until we just have to,” I told them. “And when that happens please come and let me know.”
There are times in the pantry when the Holy Spirit urges us to serve a client in a way that goes beyond the established parameters. So we talked about guidelines for when that happens. Females never leave alone with anyone. Take a man with you. Guys don’t ever leave alone with females.
Wanna do something really fun and rewarding?!
My family of wife, two daughters, two husbands, and five grandchildren (all girls) decided to get together for lunch this past Easter. What a blessing!
So, the day before, at the upward soccer games in which my grands play, my oldest daughter turns to me and says, “When we sit down to eat lunch tomorrow, I will break a three day fast.”
Amazing. She looked so normal.
I had dabbled in fasting, but it had been at least 100 years. Okay, that’s an exaggeration; more like 90.
Anyhoo, fasting is when, you know, we deny ourselves food. On purpose. I know! It’s crazy.
But we’re asked to do this sometimes by medical folks such as when we’re going in for a full blood screen. It’s called a fasting lab. And then there’s the big procedure when you turn 50 where you have to fast for a whole day before the appointment but that’s okay because you have to drink this medicine and spend the whole day in the bathroom and really don’t have time to eat. And really don’t want to….
Okay, I have a confession to make. It’s nothing juicy or salacious. However, it is important.
But first, I want to tell you about bags.
We employ the used shopping bags from Kroger, Walmart, and any other store in which donors of bags have shopped. We received a gajillion (correct spelling, look it up), on Feed the Need day, but bags are also donated throughout the year, primarily by Storehouse volunteers.
We use these bags mostly in our hygiene room, to hold clients’ choices there, and also in the cold food room (we’re trying this new name for the hottest room in the Storehouse, what do you think?) to bag cold items destined to condensate. We probably average 3.7 used bags per client per serve day. (And another ten new ones per client, donated by Walgreens.)
We receive these bags from donors in a state you can probably imagine. Seventy-nine bags wadded up, crammed into a single bag, the handles having been pretzelized (come on, we make verbs out of nouns all the time, like hammering and our favorite, google it) to close the top.
So, the bags have to be snapped. To snap bags, one grabs the handles, uses the arm as a bullwhip, which causes the bag to take on a little air and return to a shape similar to its original. Once several snapped bags hang from a snapper’s hand, the air is squeezed from them all and they are nestled among others in a paper grocery sack, which maintains its shape regardless of how many bags it holds, handles out, for easy single selection.
The weekend after I became the Storehouse director, I snapped over 1200 bags. And now I just snap them as they come in, although I haven’t worked through all the FTN bags. I’d like to say I spend all that time praying over the donor who put items for our clients in those bags, or for the clients who will take home items in those bags, and that does happen, but mostly I just watch television with my wife. With the volume unusually high, of course, cause I’m snapping bags.
It was one of those weeks; one of those nights; one of those serves.
For only the second time, the Storehouse served in the evening last night. We’d prepared for 90, as we always do, but registered 59 and served 51.
I’ve already sent that data to the Arkansas Food Bank. When they learned we were serving some evenings, they were desperate for data. What they want to know is if we encounter someone in the evening, who has come for the first time, who works, and who cannot receive food from a pantry from 8 am to 5 pm.
In case you’re wondering too, three clients answered the first two yes, I’m new and I work. Of those, two said they couldn’t attend a daytime pantry. And we didn’t serve last night just because of them, but it sure felt great to serve them.
All week we’d been hearing of the river cresting, of potential flooding, you know, somewhere else. Then volunteers began contacting me. They couldn’t make it due to rising waters. Three volunteers who did come last night left early. The main road to their neighborhood had already been closed and they needed to leave before the alternate route they’d used to get to us was closed before they could get home.
I’m sticky. I’ll explain why in a minute.
I stepped out with the clipboard, to begin registering our clients for the day, at 9:15; exactly as we’d planned.
Before that, we’d been in team meeting, 9:00 to 9:15, also exactly as we’d planned.
As that meeting ended, I shared how disconnected I felt to today’s serve. I’d been in professional development the last two days. Ten hours of my working week had been spent there, and I just didn’t feel ready for the day.
Deborah, a long-time volunteer, with a big heart and a deep faith encouraged me. “That just means you have to have confidence in Jesus for this.”
I said her reward for speaking up was that she had to lead us in prayer for the day. She gladly agreed. We stood and took each other’s hands. As I bowed my head, I heard someone in the circle say, “I love it when she prays.”
And before all that, I was in my office, trying to get something printed. Technology is probably the most fragile thing in our entire operation, but when it won’t do what it has promised it will do, I go a little nutty. I eventually abandoned the print task.
And by 9:15 I was greeting clients in the line.
This is one of my favorite things at the Storehouse. My spirit comes alive when I get to greet and welcome guests. And this was our new plan. We would not release the registration clipboard to our clients. We’d cut our team meeting short. And someone from our team would begin registration outside.
I am the Storehouse Director and get the privilege of writing about the people that Jesus loves.
Contact Mike Rush at email@example.com for all things "Volunteer".
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