Not To Judge, But To Serve

By Claudine Henry

“We couldn’t make it without you,” Patricia said in her heavy British accent.

As one of our regulars, she was reiterating a statement I hear all the time. It is part of normal conversation at the Tulakes Food Pantry where, every Wednesday, a few staff members and a cadre’ of volunteers work to meet the needs of the community.

“My husband and I are both on disability and they cut mine in half when his started and we only get $16 a month in food stamps...”

Or, “I have growing boys and I can’t keep enough food in my house…”

Or, “My social security doesn’t give me much left over…”

I hear it from single parents, from veterans, from seniors who often have to choose medicine over food, from grandmothers raising grandkids, and from those struggling to get through job layoffs.

Managing a food pantry has forever changed how I view poverty and the reasons behind it. Food insecurity is no respecter of persons. Life is hard enough without worrying about how to feed your family.

Food is not the only thing we serve. Tulakes provides consistent community in a neighborhood that is often very transient. We know our clients by name, and usually by need, and we pray with them on a regular basis. In the last few months, I’ve prayed with an aunt whose niece was murdered by gang members, a grandmother worried about her teenage grandsons, and an addict in the midst of withdrawal. I’ve prayed for deliverance from depression, for healing from cancer, and for a ray of hope when there is only darkness.

Working at a food pantry has taught me not to judge but to serve, that my preconceived ideas of poverty are not the whole story, and that my worst day is often better that the best day of some of my clients.

Cheryl, one of our volunteers, summed it up best, “I went there expecting to help people change their lives. What caught me by surprise was how learning their stories changed mine.”