Outreach Journal: March 30th, 2024

March 30, 2024
We were blessed with an unprecedented amount of food during March. A little-known nonprofit entity in town, which had a small food pantry, decided to close its doors. They heard of our outreach through word of mouth and asked if we’d be interested in their provisioning.  “What a blessing!” I thought.  I called my friend Rick and, through several trips, transported the goods from their location to ours. Because we had received such a small amount of food from the public before, we only had one small cabinet to store food in.  I quickly saw the need to run across the street to Lowe’s and purchase two 4’ X 3’ shelving units, which we filled.

I am dangerously pessimistic. So, what I am about to share with you is way out of my nature.  I thought the food would arrive if I behaved like we had already received the blessing to feed many people. So, one Saturday, I gave away some office furniture in the back of our building to someone on social media who was willing to come and haul it away. I purchased and assembled four more 4’ X 3’ shelves in its place.

Several days passed, and after much begging on social media, only trickles of food came in.  I began to doubt my leap of faith and even decided that I had failed with the stewardship of God’s blessings by purchasing the expensive shelves in the first place.

But it’s common for God to show up at the last minute. The food suddenly steadily started to roll in. A neighbor down the street where I lived showed up with an unprecedented amount of canned food. Several of my customers who had generously given in the past showed up again. And before long, we had more than we ever had before.

It’s Thursday, March 28th, and my loving wife was off work and spent the day organizing the shelves. The next day, she was joined by Karen and another member of Ridgewood Baptist Church, who carefully divided the massive number of nonperishables that would not go into bags (such as canned goods, pre-cooked packaged beef stew, and cereal boxes) into totes designated for our four stops on Saturday.  I filled the trailer behind our truck that afternoon to capacity.  Had these women not shown up when they did, there’s no way this would’ve happened.  God had it planned out.

Late that afternoon, a lady arrived with a trunk full of 150 individually prepared bags of food, toiletries, and scripture, which she and her granddaughters had meticulously prepared. It was a good thing we got those shelves after all.

Tom from Ridgewood arrived with his van that evening like clockwork, and we filled it up to capacity. After that, Kim and I were alone and faced with making food bags, as we had done every evening before our Saturday outreach.  The past few times, we had been spoiled with help.  In the outreach business, you learn that the novelty quickly wears off, and the help dwindles. With all this food, Kim and I figured it would take us till midnight to get everything bagged up by ourselves.  Then, out of nowhere, Brad, his son, and Uncle Eddie show up.  Brad, from Redemption Place Church, and his family have helped out several times before.  Within four hours, we had 216 bags of food, along with the 150 donated, which gave us 366 in 14 totes, which were not going to fit on the trailer.  Thankfully, Brad and Uncle Eddie agreed to meet me in the morning and transport the totes in their trucks to the Cadillac.  God, once again, provided all that we needed.

The morning of Saturday, March 30th, was more about scripture than I would have liked. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We thought things would turn out predictably but didn’t.

What I mean by that is this. We had tons of food.  Additionally, Ridgewood Baptist went above and beyond and created over thirty Easter baskets for the children. So, the anticipation was high when we set up at the Cadillac Motel to have the usual massive amount of people come out in droves and load up.  We were so convinced of this happening that we intentionally separated some of the food and set it back for our other stops in fear of there being such a demand at the Cadillac that we could potentially run entirely out, which has always been the case since we started doing this in 2021.

But that didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong; many people received a bunch of stuff, but not the hundred-plus we were used to.  And, of course, being human, I’ve got to think, “Why would God bless us with this massive amount of food with such few people to show up?” I also thought maybe not all of the doors got knocked on.  Usually, that’s my thing to do, but on this day, a couple of others volunteered, and I did not want to deny them that blessing.  Who knows?  For whatever reason, there weren’t many people at the Cadillac.

So, we load up and head to Tent City, off of Triad Lane. Tom and Karen from Ridgewood in their van, Kim driving my truck, and Ole’ Blue and I with the trailer.  For whatever reason, upon arrival, there were already a couple of people walking on the railroad tracks toward the area where we parked.  I met them midway, and they recognized us. The woman, who couldn’t have weighed eighty pounds, returned to camp to let the others know we had arrived.  The man, who we’ll call Doppler (those in the know get that reference), was walking his bicycle, struggling to carry some containers to transport goods, which included a sled.  I offered to take his bicycle and somewhat accomplished riding it the rest of the way for him.  Doppler has become a regular.

Before long, others from camp joined us for what would be quite a different experience from what we were accustomed to during our visits to Tent City. For this to make any sense, you must understand the following facts. In the past, by the time we reached this destination, our food supplies were already exhausted. This was the first time we had food since we started visiting Tent City.

As each realized how much food was available, enthusiasm and excitement spread among them. They loaded up. One of them arrived riding another bicycle, towing a two-wheeled cart. I was pleased to recognize that one of our totes from a previous visit had been attached to the cart to better haul supplies. He would eventually make several trips back and forth from camp, transporting goods his neighbors had picked out. Several totes of food were waiting to be transported when we left, which didn’t happen till later.

One of the women I did not recognize was younger and probably had not been homeless for long. She was so appreciative, polite, and thankful for the bounty of food, which is usually our experience with those experiencing homelessness. She came across this tote I had forgotten we had filled with feminine hygiene products, soap, shampoo, lotions, deodorant, and cosmetics.  You would think she had come across bars of gold.  She couldn’t stop voicing her thankfulness and appreciation. It touches your heart and helps put things into perspective when you consider what we take for granted daily.

We start to depart, and Doppler takes it upon himself to state the obvious: We ought to all pray. We all gather, arms over one another’s shoulders, and Tom prays. I know someone is reading this, rolling their eyes in bewilderment as to why I continue to bring this up. In the context of cleaned-up people in a cleaned-up church building, yes, this would be predictable, expected, and routine.  In this context, it’s not.  I can’t come up with the words.  Profound?

We arrived at the Colonel House Motel and quickly set up our tables and set out the goods. There was a good crowd, and lots of provisions were handed out.  We still had a few clothes left over that people were going through.  Every time we go out, and this day is no exception, someone approaches us asking, “Who are you with?”.  And the answer is always the same: we’re with nobody.  We’re just people.  So far, the universal response to that seems to be a relief.  Not sure what to make of that.

Our final destination, Dixiana Court Apartments, also went well. Many people took a lot of food, and our presence was as well received as the previous time. I’m still figuring out why I feel led to share this, but I do. It may help one of you understand how some live. I’m walking around, knocking on doors, and I go up the stairs in one building to get to those four doors.  A yellow drop cord is plugged into an electrical outlet out in the tattered foyer, leading down the hall and under a door to one of the apartments.  At that very moment, a woman walks past me and lets herself into that door carrying several bags of food.  To me, this meant a few things.  That apartment probably didn’t have electricity turned on.  She’s most likely going through a tough time.  Second, these neighbors are tight-knit. Everyone’s going to keep that quiet.  Lastly, suppose the lack of maintenance to the property isn’t enough to indicate that the owner doesn’t care. In that case, the fact that management isn’t around enough to notice the cord reinforces that speculation.  Let all that sink in for a moment. Neighbors looking out for neighbors, people living without power or food in a place owned by someone who could care less.  And compare that to where you and I are.

I don’t condone the theft of electricity. Yes, that’s “wrong”.  We’re simply pointing that out so that we might appreciate our circumstances.

The day ended with this surreal realization.  Everyone who wanted food got food for the first time since we started this.  Compared to what we had to begin with, we hardly had anything left over.  Ironically, God had one more person for us.  When we arrived at our shop to unload, a traveler on foot with a backpack stopped and asked if we needed help unloading.  I seriously doubt he had any way of knowing that there was food inside these black plastic totes.  You better bet we fixed him up.  And as usual, he just took what he needed and turned down what he didn’t.  This kindness and humbleness is the rule, not the exception, of what I have witnessed from those experiencing homelessness.

In closing, earlier, I mentioned how the novelty of giving to and serving in an outreach like this quickly wears off with most people.  That’s why this event will probably be the only one we’ll have where we can feed everybody.  I feel like I’ve tapped out our audience, and people are tired of hearing me beg.  I hope I’m wrong.

And while people who volunteer come and go after a time or two, there’s one couple who have been consistent through some difficult times.  And they are one of the few people I’ve met that work the background as well as they do.  This means their purpose for what they do isn’t to bring glory upon themselves, nor to draw attention, but because they’re genuine—the real deal. And that’s Tom and Karen Bristow from Ridgewood Baptist Church.  When they first began, there was one Saturday we worked alongside one another the entire day in the cold rain. Without going into detail, it was a rough day.  At the end of the day, I said something to Karen like, “Surely you two aren’t crazy enough to do this again.”  But they are, and they do.  And they love it. We’re so blessed. God put people in your path for a reason and a purpose: to serve Him.

By the way, just as a disclaimer. We’re excited when someone shows up to help, even if it is just a one-time thing.  And I say that because if that person gets to witness a child’s tears who just got a coat wrapped around their cold shoulders, the smile of a person experiencing homelessness finding their bar of soap, or the nonverbal thankfulness from a mother who can’t speak your language carting off more food than she ought to be carrying than it’s worth it.  The one-time volunteer’s experience might have planted a seed, which could take years before the fruit of that seed manifests itself in the form of a good gesture toward someone else.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  We’re gardeners, not harvesters.

All of the real names used here were with permission.  Otherwise, the names have been changed. To protect the identity of those photographed, they have been blurred intentionally unless consent was given before publishing.


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