Even though I love to eat and seem to have hunger pangs about every four hours, I have never really known true hunger. I have faced a challenge or two since the day I came into this world over 69 years ago, but an access to food and an abundance of it has never been one of them. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have never thought much about it other than to acknowledge daily that I am blessed in so many ways. Nevertheless, I don’t often pause to specify those blessings individually. This week, hunger came into focus.
On Monday, as I was sitting around doing the stuff that old retired guys do (checking sports scores, planning lunch, watching neighbors walk by) I received a call from my dear friend John who said he needed a favor. John and I go back a long way and have known each other since high school days when we worked on a pipeline crew for several summers. He also gave me a helping hand about twenty-five years ago when I desperately needed one, but that’s a story for another day. If John needed a favor, I was all in.
Periodically John and his wife, Judy, volunteer to deliver food for Fish, an organization that provides food to individuals and families in Knoxville and surrounding areas. Judy had another commitment on delivery day and John asked if I could fill in. I said I would meet him as soon as my exercise class (more retired guy stuff) ended.
Fish is a remarkable non-profit, all-volunteer organization that serves food and other needed items to nearly 11,000 families a month from four locations in Knoxville and several associate locations in struggling communities nearby. Fish provides food to anyone who asks for it in a non-judgemental way. There is no concern about whether it is deserved.
The church that John and I both attend supports the Fish organization by encouraging members of our congregation to donate needed food and personal items and cash contributions. Our church also provides volunteers to gather donated items and items supplied by Fish and organize them based on the needs of the recipients into bags and containers. Volunteers then deliver those containers to families and individuals who are unable to come to the Fish Pantry. That was our job for the afternoon.
We arrived at the church and were met by a group of volunteers who had organized items for delivery. Several volunteers had already departed with about half of the day’s deliveries, but I was impressed with the amount of food that remained and with how efficient everything was organized and staged. The bags John and I were to deliver were pointed out to us and we were handed information sheets containing the names and addresses of the four families we were assigned. Each bag was filled with items requested by the family such as food items like cereal, or peanut butter for example, or personal items like shampoo or diapers. Each bag was numbered and the numbers were listed on the sheets we were given.
Each of the four families on our assignment lived in the same housing complex and after we loaded the bags in John’s car we got directions and moved out. It was a beautiful day and I felt blessed to be out and about in it. It didn’t really matter where we were going…I felt we were heading in a good direction.
The complex was located on a busy street within a mile of downtown. Without counting, I would estimate that there were approximately forty apartments in the complex. We took advantage of the good directions given by a resident and found the first apartment with no difficulty. A lady greeted us with a warm smile and a very friendly voice. John was carrying the bags for this family and placed them on a kitchen counter. A gentleman was laying on the couch and appeared to be ill. Both were extremely grateful and thanked us profusely.
We were met at the second apartment by a lady and her small but very active dog. She too was very welcoming and then said she recognized us. It turns out that she had visited our church on occasion and had seen us there. We encouraged her to come back for another visit. I gave her the bags I was carrying, gave her dog a quick pat and turned to leave, but the busy little pooch scooted out the door before I could close it. In the hallway, a gentleman coming up the steps rescued the little fellow and took him back to his owner. With the crisis averted, we again said goodbye and moved on.
At the third apartment, we met a peppy lady wearing big glasses and a scarf around her head. The apartment was minimally furnished and she asked us to place the items on the floor which I did. She had a big smile the entire time we were there but said that she was about to have surgery for a second time on her shoulder. We left after a short but very lively conversation about a variety of subjects. I thought to myself that I hoped her surgery goes well because this would be one lady who would find it difficult to slow down.
A lady wearing a scarf around her shoulders opened the door at our last apartment and as she struck up a conversation with John, a young lady appearing to be in her twenties stuck her head out of an apartment across the hall. She looked at me and quietly asked if we had a bag for her. When I said that I didn’t she gave me a forlorn look then turned and closed before I could tell her about Fish. For the rest of the day, I thought more about her than the families we served. I pray she wasn’t hungry.
In the end, John did me a bigger favor than I did for him. I’m blessed and grateful that I had this opportunity. There is a lot more to do in this world than old retired guy stuff. I better be Easin’ Along.