For several years our church acquired food from the West Ohio Food Bank to distribute to those in need in our community. Six months of the year, on a Saturday morning, we transformed our fellowship hall using long folding tables to help create a line/path for the crowd which formed. I was often placed at a special section of this length of tables. By the time folks reached me, they may have been waiting nearly an hour, but I tried to add a bit of cheer by re-welcoming them to the food pantry. My cheeriness was aided by personal items we hoped would be a blessing to their recipients. For weeks we would collect supplies not normally provided at other local distributions. Laundry detergent, shower gel, combs, brushes, toothpaste, etc. As our visitors reached this portion of the line it seemed their spirits were buoyed by options which ministered to their dignity. They were able to choose which three or four items they needed the most and they could be somewhat selective as to brand, color or scent. As they passed by the twelve foot length of my station, I enjoyed our conversations but when there was a pause, I was careful to put my hands on the table and to notice its width.
Thirty inches….that’s the width of your typical church folding table. “Thirty inches….that’s the difference between being a giver and being a recipient”, is what I could hear in my head. I hoped my soul would be ingrained with that short span of white mottled plastic resting between myself and our visitors. I knew I would minister best to those in need when I could perceive how narrow the gap was that divided us. At that time in my life, I hadn’t experienced a major medical emergency, an unexpected job loss, or a devastating natural disaster. It was important to remind myself that any one of the three could land me on the opposite side of the table. It’s another version of the old saying try to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. But, don’t worry about the mile, let your heart reside in that 30 inch span I’ve described just awhile longer.
Fully taking to heart the 30 inch span improved my life as a giver. When I went shopping for the personal items we gathered, I would pray for a nudge toward something unique. I’ll never forget shopping one day in the midst of cold season, walking the aisles with my own scratchy throat. It occurred to me how blessed I was to have a throat lozenge tucked in my pocket….and how others might not have the resources to deal with a minor illness. I threw a couple of bags of cough drops in my cart. Fast forward a few days to our distribution. Many people walked by our “personal items” table and there were no takers for my purchase. Then a woman approached the table and reached for the cough drops explaining how grateful her husband would be when she returned home with them!
It’s been a few years since we’ve distributed food in such mass quantities. We now take reservations for food boxes ahead of time and do our own shopping for every item. We try to let the “30 inches” mindset inform our choices. We still use those folding tables. But now I have experienced “unexpected job loss” from that crisis list above. I’ve been humbled having to “switch sides of the table” so to speak, although I still would not compare my discomfort with the deeper needs of our patrons. I’ve been so grateful for those who understand the very short distance between where they stand today, and where life could place them tomorrow... standing with me on the opposite side of the table. They've been my most compassionate and generous helpers. I’m really blessed beyond measure, especially by the valuable lessons gleaned from across a table.
Author: Lisa Crawford
Leave a Reply.