Tag Archives: poor

Finding gratitude where least expected

Rockingham Co. VA, rural farms

Where some of the local food is grown and where some of the food pantry clients live.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Life never ceases to amaze me. In my long years of living, I’ve learned that gratitude often emerges in the least likely of places.

My wife and I were asked to volunteer one evening a month at a local food pantry near downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Friendly City is home to 55,000 people in the center of the Shenandoah Valley. The pantry operates once a week, providing foodstuffs for those who don’t have enough income even to buy basic grocery necessities.

Participants are only permitted to visit the food pantry once per month. Individual records are kept to ensure the rules are followed. That has never been a problem, however.

tomatoesbybrucestambaugh

Locally grown produce like these tomatoes is often donated to the food pantry.

The pantry receives its supplies from two sources. A regional food bank provides federal government USDA commodities, while local supermarkets, restaurants, and farmers donate their surplus food to the pantry. A few farmers even grow extra produce to help supply in-season fresh foods.

Those who depend on the food pantry for their sustenance must qualify by income for the USDA items. Pantry participants receive the locally provided food without qualification. The pantry offers a few healthcare products, too.

Neva and I have settled into our roles of interviewers. Our job has multiple responsibilities. We have to ask many invasive, personal questions before we can check off the USDA food preference list with the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to write down $0 for a monthly income. It’s a humbling experience both for the clients and us.

With all the “workers wanted” signs around, a logical question might be, “Why don’t these people get a job?” The answer to this question is two-fold. Many of the clients do have jobs. Their meager incomes and family sizes qualify them for the federal subsidies.

William Penn quotation.

From my observations and interactions, those who receive aid and don’t work are not employable for a host of obvious reasons. Some stay at home with small children. Some are senior citizens whose productive working days are long past. Some are disabled with no financial support of any kind. You get the picture.

Amid the discomfiting officiousness, one quality consistently shines from month to month, person to person. Everyone we encounter expresses gratitude for any help provided. Some are effusive while others say a quiet thank you.

As humbling and perhaps even embarrassing as the experience is for the clients, they are all thankful. Without being prompted, a few share heartbreak stories with us. They seem glad to have someone with whom to converse. We listen intently and thank them for sharing. A hardy handshake sometimes ensues.

I have yet to meet anyone who feels entitled to this food. Just the opposite is true. The clients’ glow of exuberant gratitude outshines any hint of disparity.

The joyous expressions and cheery thankfulness for whatever assistance they receive more than reward us for our collective efforts. Every client is especially appreciative if the list indeed includes healthcare items like diapers, shampoo, or toothpaste.

It takes courage to admit you need help. But if your child is hungry and the cupboard is bare, courtesy, gratitude, and thankfulness vanquish pride.

A disconcerting trend has developed, however. Each time we serve at the food pantry the number of clients tends to increase. Nevertheless, humility, smiles, and expressions of relief also grow exponentially.

Who would have thought that we would find and receive abundant gratitude from those who can’t afford daily food? Who would have imagined that serving in such a manner would reward us with humankind’s most heartfelt thanks?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Filed under column, food photography, human interest, news, photography, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Tis the season to remember the poor

snow scene, barn in snow

Christmas landscape. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I love to read to children.

As an elementary student, I feared being called on to read. I was in my glory when the instructions were to read silently. I had my immature reasons, most of which were cemented in fear of reading aloud, mispronouncing words and the ensuing public chastisement.

I got over it, but I still don’t like to read out loud in front of groups. There was an exception, however. When I became an elementary teacher, I enjoyed reading to my own students because they respectfully listened.

Often times I read right after the noon recess. Intermediate school children played hard. I wanted them to be ready for the afternoon lessons. I found reading timely, age-appropriate stories perfect for getting the students calmed and cooled down.

All they had to do was listen, even with their heads on their desks. Reading allowed me to refocus, too.

reading to children, reading

Reading to my granddaughter.

This time of year, I always read Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol.” I still read it to myself every year. It’s one of my Yuletide traditions.

The book is a classic with a timeless story of a changed heart and helping the poor. Set in 19th century London, Dickens beautifully played out the true meaning of Christmas through the tension he created between Ebenezer Scrooge and the other main characters in the book, mainly his nephew, Fred, and Scrooge’s desk clerk, Bob Cratchit.

I marveled at how well the students paid attention. After I finished reading for 10 or 15 minutes, the students always begged me to read on. Most wanted to hear what happened next. Some, of course, just wanted a further delay in doing the afternoon lessons.

I read and continue to read “A Christmas Carol” because it is incredible literature, very well written, and a commentary on the societal situations at the time. I also enjoy the spirit that the book imbibes. It clearly reflects the true meaning of Christmas.

reading, reading to grandkids

Reading to grandkids. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

In the opening scene, the stage is set. Two men enter Dickens’ accounting office to ask for a monetary donation to help the poor. Scrooge asks them if the poor houses and the workhouses have disappeared, knowing they have not.

Scrooge shoos the men out, and in the process lets in his happy-go-lucky nephew, Fred. He promptly invites Scrooge to a Christmas party, to which Scrooge imparts his legendary “Bah Humbug” retort. Fred leaves, disappointed but not discouraged.

Dickens’ classic still rings true today. As technologically advanced as we are today, as quickly as we can communicate with others, as good as we have it in our North American society, the poor are still among us.

I am thankful for all of the organizations, churches, businesses and individuals that give freely of their time and money to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the less fortunate at Christmastime.

These kind and generous acts exemplify the Christmas spirit in action, much the way Dickens’ fabled tale does. Because I have read the story so many times, I know what’s coming. But because the story is so well written, still apropos, I keep reading “A Christmas Carol.” Its message to help the poor is intended to reach far beyond the holiday season.

If you haven’t ever read “A Christmas Carol,” I won’t spoil it for you. Read it. Your Christmas will be brighter for it, and maybe, just maybe, someone else’s life will be richer because you did.

food delivery, helping the poor

Helping the poor anytime of year any way possible is always appreciated. © Bruce Stambau gh 2014.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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