From the Desk of John Van Cleef
Every day we’re surrounded by reminders of why we do what we do. The best word I know for it is compassion – not just feeling for someone, but walking with someone in their experience to be a comfort and help. No one can do another person’s journey, but this beautifully written story captures the power of waling with someone on their journey.
To our volunteer who took time to author and share her experience: Thank you for helping us see and feel what we’re surrounded by every day. I promise the careful reading of this will be worth the three – four minutes of your time:
A Volunteer’s CRC Story
Acceptance. Compassion. Dignity. Presence. The absence of these leaves us feeling misunderstood, unseen, demoralized, and isolated.
On any given Wednesday morning, those receiving weekly groceries hold a number in their hand as they sit in the outdoor lobby at CRC. If it’s August, it’s hot and muggy. They hear their number called, step through the door, enter an air-conditioned space, and are greeted by Apple’s smiling face saying: Hello!
Welcome! She introduces the client to one of us–the shoppers–and there begins a potential transformation from judgment to acceptance; invisible to seen; indifference to compassion; demoralized to dignity; marginalized to presence.
It isn’t always easy or joyful or rewarding. Some arrive hot, flustered, beaten down, the day’s stresses cloaked like a lead vest heavy on their shoulders.
And then there are the days where someone comes in, and we are the ones who are challenged, moved, changed. I got to be the lucky one on one of those Wednesday mornings. Apple took me aside before calling out the number. Her eyes were big and serious. “Are you ready? This might be a tough one.”
I took a breath, smiled, and said, “Of course!” Inside, I was a bit anxious. Was this a warning of potentially challenging or anxious shopper?
In walked Wendy. Before we were even introduced, tears pooled in her eyes. It was her first-time shopping at CRC. I jotted down her family size, how many points she had for groceries, and led her to her cart. “Here are the breads. You can take up to three. In this case over here we have lots of Starbucks sandwiches…” On I went, she nodding, tearing up more.
We made eye contact, and I asked her what was going on.
“I’m a failure,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe I have to do this. I’m a mother, I have two kids, and I can’t believe I have to shop in a food bank,” she cried, tears now streaking her cheeks.
It was intimate, vulnerable, and authentic. And it called for me to be intimate, vulnerable, and authentic. Several of us surrounded Wendy offering reassurances that she wasn’t a failure, but rather, she was doing exactly what a mom needs to do, whether that’s done at Vons or Stater Bros. or CRC, she IS fulfilling her role as a mom: providing, feeding, protecting.
I asked her the names and ages of her children. We chatted as she filled her cart. Each time she picked up a canned good or box, it was as if she was handed a gift, and her gratitude tapped a place in me that treats grocery shopping as a chore, a drag, a “have to” instead of a “get to”.
When I bid Wendy good-bye that day, I had to take a minute. I went to the break area and got my bottle of water and cried. Even today as I write this, I tear up. Something in me was transformed because of the few minutes that Wendy let me into her world.
There are so many reasons we volunteer: we have the time, we feel a need to give back to others, we have the resources and are keenly aware that others don’t, we once struggled financially, and many others. As for me, I know that I had grown too comfortable with my life, and calloused, afraid, and somewhat indifferent to those in the margins prior to joining CRC. I give with enthusiasm and cheer, but what is happening inside of me is life changing.
Behind each face is a person, a story, a resiliency that blows my mind. I’m grateful that the Wendy’s of our community let me in to that sacred space of walking alongside them up the aisles of the food pantry at CRC, and challenge me to grow in my acceptance, presence, compassion, and gratitude of those I meet.