Stepping Out

The church I attend has a strong commitment to the community, reaching out in a variety of ways. The particular niche I have settled into is food delivery for the FISH program. In rotation with other area organizations, once a month we open the phone lines to answer the needs of those in our area who, for whatever reason, are having trouble getting access to enough food. We do not ask for proof of need, or employment status, or try to find out if they already have food in their home. If a person calls and says they need food we say, “Okay. Tell us how many are in your household and where in Knox County you live, and we’ll bring you some food.” It’s not our place to decide whether or not they deserve the food. If they ask for it, we give it to them, and leave the judgment to others. It’s a beautiful thing, elegant in its simplicity, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

This month was a little different. Not in the essential elements of the program, but the actual delivery process was different because of the pandemic. Instead of all the volunteers gathering at the church and spending a little time together before we chose our deliveries and packed up, each person or team arrived at the church at a designated time, picked up the bags of food and list of locations outside, and loaded our cars from there. Everyone had on masks and gloves; everyone stayed several feet apart. We stayed in gloves and masks throughout the trip. Most of the folks we delivered to were wearing masks as well, and there was minimal contact or small talk with the people we were serving as we made our way down the list. When we finished Don and I went our separate ways instead of choosing a restaurant for a bite of lunch before going to our respective homes. Different.

I have to admit I was a little uncertain about whether or not to volunteer for this month’s deliveries. Even though we took all the recommended precautions, the risk of interacting with someone who had an active case of COVID-19 was certainly there, and I am old enough to be in the higher risk group. Those of us who are fortunate enough to continue living eventually end up in the “over 60” or “65+” category, so I’m not unhappy to be there. It means I’m still around. It also means that whenever I fill out a form, when it gets to age categories I skip to the last box automatically, and that I am at risk for all kinds of nasty stuff, from memory loss to falls to loss of strength and flexibility to diseases of all kinds. This pandemic we’re in the middle of is particularly troublesome, since we don’t have a cure or a vaccine and evidently it has the potential to hit like a freight train. 

So the decision to leave home and venture out, not only onto the familiar grounds of my church, but to several homes/apartments somewhere out there where the unknown factors were front and center, was not easy for me. Introverted by nature and a pacifist to boot, there are many things I can’t do to advance the cause of justice and be a force for healing in these times. But I can do this. I can help feed a few hungry people. If each of us does a small thing, big things end up happening. I think that’s how we move forward.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

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