Two years into this gig of feeding the less fortunate and I continue to be amazed in so many ways. The surprises continue to come most often from those that we serve. Amazing is the grace that I am given regularly.
We live in a world and country where poverty comes with a stigma. Money, career success, a beautiful family, a nice house, a fancy car is just a few of the prerequisites of success. After all nobody can say they’re a success driving a 1996 Dodge. If you cannot show the outward appearance that money can afford then just how successful are you.
Going from cooking and serving those living at the very top of the economic ladder to those at the very bottom is such a shocking change that every now and then I am forced to stop dead in my tracks and evaluate my life. Last night caused me to pause.
As I was cleaning up last night one of the regular guests of our Tuesday night event came over to wish me a Merry Christmas, hug me and hand me a Christmas card. The love and appreciation I get from those we serve is so overwhelming at times. I have often stated that Bracken’s Kitchen as done so much more for me than I have ever done for the people we serve. I truly wish that each one of you could experience the personal and life changing outlook that I have. The deep happiness and satisfaction that I have found from serving others. It is so profound that it is hard to put into words. It truly has changed me and my entire outlook on life.
Back to the Christmas card. As I was so busy cleaning and packing up Betsy I put it on the side and forgot about it. As I drive out of the parking lot and headed to the Civic Center to see my friends I remembered the card. After dropping off dinner and gifts for Ruby, David, Daniel and the gang I grabbed the card from the back and opened it.
It was not just a Christmas Card, it was so much more. The card was nice but the message was more than enough. Thanking me for the “healthy meals” was a vivid reminder of one of my favorite quotes these days. Since when did a tasty and nutritious meal become a luxury in America? I was moved to tears by their kindness but then I noticed that there was something still in the envelope. Yes, these people who have so very little themselves and literally depend on Bracken’s Kitchen scrapped up the money to buy me a Starbucks card. I mean really, wow.
Later, that night I pulled into a gas station to get some gas and standing there I noticed a van way over on the other side of the shared parking lot. I have probably seen many vans just like this but paid no attention to them in the past. But tonight, was different, I am different. It was 5 days before Christmas and I had to go see. As I walked over to the van I could see that it was literally packed from front to back. Every space was crammed full of stuff except for the driver’s seat. There was a bicycle strapped to the front end of the van and a wooden pallet on the top. More “stuff” was on the pallet and it was all covered with a blue tarp.
When I approached, the man sitting in the driver’s seat with his window partially down it looked, hmm, scared I guess. I greeted him and asked him if he was living in the van. He looked and me with a concerned look and did not answer at first. I apologized to him and told him that I did not mean to bother him but just wanted to help. He then replied no, I live with my brother but he has 5 kids. While I am not certain I am sure that is a standard answer so that people will not bother him, or judge him too much. I then proceeded to tell him about our Laundry Love event tomorrow night and that he could get a free hot meal and clean clothes. He stated that he has food stamps and that he is ok. As I departed I gave him the address and told him that he is welcome to join us and of course reminded him that a meal prepared by a professional chef is better than food stamps. He thanked me, wished me a Merry Christmas and asked God to Bless Me.
As I walked away I cried for the third time today thinking that I have been beyond blessed and that he was the one that truly needed some blessings. It broke my heart to think of this man sitting alone in a van in a dark parking lot 5 days before Christmas. And despite that he was kind, thoughtful and loving. He wished me well, a man with so very little was wishing blessings upon me.
There are so many people like this man and the many families that we serve. The working poor who are just struggling to get by. They are not drug addicts. They don’t have mental disease. They are not alcoholics and don’t waste their money, other than an occasional Starbucks card for someone like me. They are the working poor of America, people who most often were born into poverty and have never been able to escape it. People who are just struggling to get by.
As we enter the final days before Christmas I ask for your help. Please consider a donation to Bracken’s Kitchen and help us leverage the power of food to make positive changes in the lives of those we serve.
Thank You, God Bless You and Merry Christmas,