We fed 167 people lunch today. Not really; we just loaded the donated food onto plates and into bags and distributed it to 167 people who came to the window of Jackson House. It’s hard for me to believe it; in a town of only 35,000 or so, 167 people needed to get donated food in order to eat lunch. And there are probably many more who didn’t make it to the window to sign in and pick up a plate of brisket and green beans and macaroni and cheese and a little dessert bag filled with a muffin or two. I wasn’t at the window, distributing the food. But I watched. And I kept it together most of the time, wondering what those folks’ lives must be like, having to come to a food distribution center just to be assured of getting a lunch. Twice, though, I had a hell of a time keeping it together. Once, a guy who is obviously beset by mental problems came to get his food; I just felt so bad for him. He must be on his own, but he lacks the skills and the resources to live on his own. So he scrapes by, living on the street, relying on the goodness of people like the folks who donated today’s meals. Another time, a young mother came to the window with her small child. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that the kid was in the midst of a cycle of poverty from which he may never escape. Yet the mother and the kid were both smiling and happy and genuinely cheery. How can that be?
I have never heard of Turf Catering until today. The company is the one that donated enormous volumes of barbecued brisket, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, and who knows what else. The only reason I know the name of the company is that I asked John, who’s in charge of the Jackson House kitchen. He had picked up the food from Turf Catering. There was enough food for today and another day or two to come. I was stunned and impressed and deeply appreciative of a company that would donate so generously. Turf Catering is a long-time Hot Springs business. It is a family-owned (Wolken family) business that has been in operation since 1929. And I’d never heard of the company or the family. Obviously, though, the people in the company contribute to this community.
I don’t know that I’ll volunteer every time the church needs volunteers to staff the Jackson House kitchen, but I suspect I’ll make it a habit. And I suspect Janine will, as well. She signed up to volunteer first; I simply tagged on to her volunteerism.
Here’s the thing, though. Jackson House prepares and distributes lunches five days a week. And the numbers of recipients of the food, though not consistent, are large. Donors like Turf Catering are desperately needed to ensure that Jackson House can feed people who desperately need help. The homeless. The mentally handicapped. The unfortunate poor. People who just caught a bad break and didn’t have a safety net of family or friends to fall back on.
Were there some lazy bastards among the recipients; people who simply don’t want to work? Maybe. But I don’t care. I believe the vast majority were people who just need a hand up and for whom an expression of support and compassion is enough to keep them going for another day. I’d much rather feed someone who doesn’t really need it than to refuse someone who really does.