Hungry, and you fed me?

Last week, I went to a very nice lunch at a very nice hotel along with several other contributors to the recently-published book of homilies and reflections for the upcoming liturgical Year C, Hungry, and You Fed Me. (See my post about that book here and consider buying one to support homeless ministries in Sandy-ravaged New Jersey.)

The luncheon was simply fabulous. Excellent food and wine, stimulating conversations with my fellow contributors (even a little joking about who among us might be "famous" and "not in the least famous"), wonderful camaraderie among friends old and new.  After more than two hours, I left the table with both a full heart and a full belly.

Later in the evening, however, as I was headed back to my hotel via the downtown A train, a woman with a baby got on the train and began to ask for help as soon as the doors closed. She had a heavy accent and a sign that basically said she had no job and needed assistance. She wandered through the car saying in a very tired voice, "Help me, please.  Help me."

That voice hit me right in my full stomach. I felt my face go red and my palms begin to sweat. I watched everyone ignore her as she moved quickly through our car and took in the futility of her wandering quest. Her flat affect and flat voice suggested that she knew the futility of it herself, and yet she went on with her asking.

I also knew that in New York, it's not a great idea for a woman alone and from out of town to simply give someone on the subway money. I knew that I wasn't equipped to respond to her the way I could respond to someone in my own community. I wished like hell that I had one of those manna bags we keep here at the church - a ziplock with a bottle of water, a pair of socks, and some non-perishable food (granola bars, canned fruit, tuna etc). We are supposed to keep one in our car to have a way to respond to people asking for help - and also to remind us when we see the manna bag that there are people who need them. That reminder ought to help spur us to work for systemic change as well. But of course I was not in my community and not in my car and not sure how I should respond.  The woman continued into the next car while I sat there sad and wondering.

My stop was next, and when I got off, I looked around to see if the woman had gotten off there, too. I had a vague notion about taking her to get something to eat. I didn't see her, but I was overjoyed to see instead a couple of guys with a wagon filled with sandwiches and water bottles in the station. They were running a ministry to feed people in the subway station.

Did the woman find them? Did they find her? I don't know. And I don't know if I was right not to help her directly instead of helping the feeding ministry instead. She was hungry and I was full and I didn't feed her. I just hope someone who could help her did so, somehow. I just hope that the memory of that experience will stay with me and spur me to help in the places and ways I know I can.

It's Thanksgiving week here in these United States of America, one of the wealthiest nations in the world. This is the one holiday where we're all about food and hardly anything else.  Further, today is St Elizabeth of Hungary's feast day. Her claim to fame is her care for the hungry.

And so I am making donations to every feeding ministry I can think of this week. I hope you will, too.

(P.S. At the local grocery store this evening, where I was shopping for groceries for our outreach program to be blessed at our Thanksgiving Eve service at church, there was a display upon which were a number of boxes filled with food that one could buy for $5 and donate to the local food bank.  I picked up two, and the cashier gave me a grateful smile. "Thank you so much for your donation," she said. "I thought it would be good to put these out here at Thanksgiving, but it's been very hard to get anyone to buy them."  

"Really?" I said. This was so easy. A box already filled. For $5. The grocery store would take care of the delivery. And it was still hard to get people to part with $5 to feed hungry people.

She put my donations on the "donations" shelf beside a few other boxes.  "Thank you again. It means a lot," she said.

Please be generous this Thanksgiving.)


Fran said…
Penny - thank you for voicing this. Thank you.
Thank you, Fran. This has been nagging at me for several days now.