Hard Times

October 10th, 2013

Yesterday I was able to spend some time at the State Street Food Pantry. Per the norm, it was a busy day Wednesday afternoon. One guy [50ish years old] I talked to told me about a temporary job he has through a local agency. It starts in two weeks, so he was looking for a pair of light or dark colored khaki pants, size 32x32 to be exact. Our clothes pantry goes through supplies rather quickly and we often are in short supply of men's clothes, so he didn't find any that fit him. I asked him to check back again next week to see if any more donations had come in. He agreed that he would.

I always struggle when someone is trying to do the right thing yet they just can't get ahead. It is made worse when I feel helpless trying to assist them. Part of the reason why I am so passionate about State Street is that we feel it is our vocation to do something about these things. I so badly wanted there to be a lousy pair of 32x32 khaki pants for this guy. "Come on, just give him that for now," I thought. This temporary job will last him for a week and then he'll be looking for employment again. He hopes that his work will impress the employer enough to turn the temporary job into a permanent job. He remarked that he could do so much to support himself with a job that is full-time. He sat quietly for a few minutes and did the math about the amount he'd be bringing home if the job would be permanent.

There was hope. Perhaps unfounded optimism disguised as hope, but there was something there. Something enough for me to see it.

I have heard the criticism about our food pantry that we may enable people, keeping them  from taking their next steps out of poverty. The argument is not substantive in content, but plenty in rhetoric. This is also mostly said by people who have neither volunteered with our pantry or attended. I have even heard people say, "You know what the Bible says, God helps those who help themselves."

It actually doesn't say that. But, who am I to get in the way of anyone's attempts at hermeneutical gymnastics? People abuse our food pantry much like you just abused the biblical narrative, flippantly and without much care. It happens.

But, for most of the folks I see and meet, their life is filled with hard times.

Weeks of it.
Months of it.
Seasons of it.
Years and years of it.

Some of it is caused by poor decisions they have made themselves. Much of it is caused by poor decisions others have made that have directly affected them. Some were born into poverty. Others made the trek themselves without any genetic maneuvering towards destitution. Regardless, they are in the midst of hard times.

I hope our community at State Street Community Church can be known for our willingness to break bread with those who are going through hard times, to share in a willingness of community to those feeling forsaken and abandoned. May the compassion that we have been shown in life during our difficult days be a catalyst to show an even greater amount of compassion towards others. Meeting this man yesterday reminded me of the importance of the time and energy spent in our community center programs. He reminded me that though it may seem like a simple pair of 32x32 slacks that he needed, it was just another bit of hope for someone.

I shared this story with someone else today from State Street. He reached in his pockets and pulled out some money. [I didn't even need to ask him for it...or prod him guiltily...] "Make sure you buy him something new," they said. He'll be able to get them when he comes looking for used pants next week. Though he'll be looking for something used, he'll receive something better. I hope it's enough for him to know he has people [a whole community even] pulling for him. He's trying. I want to try for him as well. I'm grateful that this man stopped into our pantry yesterday. It served as a sacred reminder of purpose and intention.

"Hard times, come again no more!"

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