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.
One volunteer texted just this morning to say, “And I don’t think I can me it out next week either.”
And I want to ask God why. Why is this happening and what are the lessons?
And too, all week I’d been sweating bullets about our air conditioning. The building in which we serve was built in the 50s. It has two sets of twin units upstairs and four units downstairs, two of which make a twin unit, meaning both units are operated by the same thermostat and also, incidentally, are the only units we can afford to run. They cool the serving area of the Storehouse.
And they also, incidentally, didn’t work. Our AC guy had been by last week and had to come back and we’d missed each other and now it was Thursday and he still wasn’t there and texted to say it would be an hour three hours ago. But when he arrived, I learned a few important things about HVAC units. Apparently, for the condensers to work, their individual breakers in the main panel have to be in the “on” position. They could have been turned off a couple weeks ago when the main breaker for the entire building had to be replaced.
But I also learned which breakers and which condensers. Since there are eight units, there’s eight condensers lining the back wall, and there’s eight breakers in the box.
And, in case you’re wondering, they’re 4 and 5.
So we get the AC fixed by two in the afternoon, and as the tsunami of angst begins to wash out of me, I’m asking the same questions.
Why is this happening and what are the lessons?
At 4:15, I’m in the breezeway, taking registrations for the evening serve and I’m approached by Barbara. “Mike, this lady needs to talk to you.” And then she takes over for me.
There’s been a mix up in the Case Management department. The lady is here to pick up a check. She couldn’t make it until 4:30. Someone in our office said we’d wait. The office is empty. “The check is for a burial. Of a child.” They lady is polite. I call our case manager. “I think it’s on the desk.”
And it is. They lady is grateful. “They’re all waiting at the funeral home.” And she’s gone.
Why does this happen and what are the lessons?
This evening serve is going to much better than the first one. Our waiting room is not ninety degrees. In fact, it’s in the 70s. Dispositions are just better. New volunteers are acclimating. And we have so much variety.
And some of that food is sweet potatoes, gold potatoes, and yellow onions from the Arkansas Food Bank. They deal in mass quantities, and they don’t have time to separate what’s good from what’s already gone bad.
So I’m taking vegetables that don’t reach our threshold for serving and am approached at the dumpster by a client who has just loaded her groceries in her van. She asks if she can have the onions to plant in her garden.
I step back into the Storehouse and am almost immediately approached by a volunteer with two sacks. “Mike, these potatoes from the cold food room have gone bad.”
I tell her I’ll take them to the dumpster. And when I get there, I see the lady who asked for the onions has been joined by her companions and they have fished a huge box of clothing out of the dumpster. Who know's where that came from. We find the wildest items in the dumpster. One of the ladies is folded over the side, nearly inside the thing, reaching especially deeply so she can get her hands on a few children’s books. Dirty, stained, and most probably reeking of onion.
Thanks for all this, she says.
And I just quit asking questions.
I don’t remember how many times I was called to the computer desk because someone who we had already served in May was with us again, desperate for food. School is out; family dynamics have changed. One guy said he didn’t know his kids were coming and they were here and he had no food.
We made a deal to serve each one, but to put in the record that they couldn’t come in June. So they got their June shopping in two days early.
I didn’t see that coming, but it was the least we could do.
Finally, I’m glad to report that all our donated food from Feed the Need is now in our warehouse. But that is also sad and sobering news. We’re a week shy of two months since that amazing event, and possibly two-thirds of the food has already been distributed.
In May, we saw 384 clients. I haven’t crunched the final numbers, but I’m pretty sure we will have distributed over 14,000 pounds of food.
I can’t even wrap my brain around these numbers, but I know this:
Our God is the great I AM. And maybe, that’s the answer to the questions. And the lesson 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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