Like many of you, I have been broken-hearted watching the news in recent weeks. The killing of George Floyd broke open wounds across our country from years of systemic racism. The pandemic crossed a somber milestone in the United States with over 100,000 deaths.
There is so much work to be done on so many fronts, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
But, amid all the pain these past few weeks, I have also been inspired by people who continue to put good back into the world. People who are quietly stepping up to help. They are unsung heroes who are making things a little bit better. I met some of these heroes last week when I visited the Community Food Pantry in Edneyville.
When I pulled up to the Pantry, I immediately noticed the cars. A long line of vehicles snaked across the parking lot and up the hill across Highway 64. It was 2 p.m., and the weekly food distribution did not start for another half hour. Volunteer Norm Lyda told me that some people had arrived a full 3 hours early. All were waiting patiently to receive bags of meat, eggs, vegetables, and pantry items. For some, it was the only way their families were going to eat that night.
Back in March as the pandemic hit, United Way of Henderson County partnered with the Community Foundation to establish the COVID-19 Response Fund. The Fund is providing grants to local nonprofits like the Food Pantry in Edneyville, nonprofits that are working on the front lines to help people who have been impacted by the crisis. Through the generosity of many donors, the Fund has raised over $347,000 to date and has distributed almost $274,000 in grants to nonprofits providing food, rental assistance, shelter, diapers, supplies, and other services to people in need.
As I watched the cars pull up to receive bags of groceries, I thought about the way the COVID-19 crisis is affecting our community. I was reminded that we may all be in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Some of us are privileged to have boats that can ride out the storm with minimal damage. Others are finding themselves shipwrecked.
Those pulling up to receive food were of differing ages, genders, and races- an older woman wearing a house coat and slippers, a young Latina mother with a newborn, an older man with a walker, a large family with children, parents and grandparents all waiting in a van with a cracked windshield and a door that wouldn’t quite shut. Some had worried faces and tired eyes. But everyone seemed glad to receive fresh food and groceries.
“Thanks, Padre!” a middle aged man with a walker called to Father Richard Rowe, the Priest-in Charge at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The Community Food Pantry is a partnership between St. Paul’s and Fruitland Methodist Church. Father Rowe and a team of volunteers from both congregations were directing traffic, packing food bags, rolling carts of food outside so people did not have to come into the pantry, and loading up waiting vehicles with groceries. “Thanks so much, sweet pea!” A grey-haired woman in a battered pickup truck smiled at the volunteer who had just put food in her passenger seat. “God bless you!”
The Community Food Pantry in Edneyville is like many of other organizations that have stepped up to help during this crisis: they have been able to marshal the generosity of caring people in the community who want to do what they can to help their neighbors. George, an 84 year old volunteer directing traffic in the parking lot, said he wasn’t raised to sit home when there was something he could do to help others. “Fred, the Bread Man” drove up with a car full of rolls and sandwich bread. He volunteers at the Food Pantry run by St. Antony’s in Fletcher, and they had extra bread to share. A neighbor down the street told her two sons to bring over a large donation of juice. A local apple grower asked if they could use any apples when they were ready.
As I was pulling out of the parking lot, I saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk between the Food Pantry and the grocery store. Father Rowe had told me that this man comes most weeks to pick up some food items, but he can’t take much since he has no way to carry the food and no permanent place to stay. From my car window, I saw another man get out of a construction truck. He was heading into the store, but he paused when he saw the homeless man, reached in his pocket, and pulled out some folded bills. Then he smiled at the man, gave him some money, wished him a good day, and went inside. This gesture of kindness touched me to the core and seemed to sum up what I had just seen at the Food Pantry and witnessed at other places throughout the community.
These are sad and uncertain times, and we are all in the same storm. But we are not in the same boat. Thankfully, there are those who are willing to step out of their own ships to help others stay afloat. As the wise Fred Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Here in Henderson County, there are many helpers. We don’t have to look far.