Guilt is a great recruiter, even on a sunny Saturday in September.
There were other things that I preferred to be doing, but I hadn’t helped much lately. So there I was, standing outside of a Walmart, like some poorly timed Santa without beard or bell, begging food for the hungry.
It was awkward. I thought of my own infrequent forays into the store. I wanted to get in and get out, not shop for someone else’s Ramen noodles and certainly not to have my charity checked at the door.
I didn’t know how strong to make my pitch. I thought it might be easier if it was more self-evident. Maybe post a few Scripture quotes like Isaiah’s “Share your food with the hungry,” or Jesus’ “I was hungry and you gave Me to eat.”
Maybe if I had looked the part, had skipped the buffets or wore some mendicant’s robes, people would rush to save me with peanut butter and spaghetti sauce.
As time passed, with one lone item in my cart, I realized that I would be more embarrassed by a poor performance than I would by hawking the need for food. I began to engage approaching shoppers.
At first, it was with those I thought sympathetic. I quickly discovered I was not good at that. Many well-dressed “sure bets” passed by empty-handed, while others I had dismissed, surprised me with their generosity.
My appeals made some so uncomfortable that they would pull out their phones, pretending a call as they passed. Others were so intent in looking away that they almost missed the doorway.
I wanted to be an invitation, not a judgement.
I realized that some were the working poor, eligible for the food we were collecting.
I appreciated those who said, “Thanks, but not today.”
I sympathized with the woman carrying an infant and herding two toddlers when she gave me that, “You’ve got to be kidding!” expression.
I smiled a “Maybe next time” to those who confessed on the way out that they had forgotten.
It could have been the heat, but something changed. Every shopper was a reflection of myself, an image of goodness and weakness, knees scraped by life’s falls, pockets of anger, frustration and fear, yet arms outstretched for another.
For a moment, I thought I was seeing all of us through the eyes of God.
In the end, food was piled around me. It was nothing I did. I was just there to learn.