A short story of gratefulness from Rich Paschall. The following originally appeared on SERENDIPITY.
Max had to get an early start on Monday. Three times a month it was the most important day of the week and he did not want to be late. It was quite the walk to the Methodist church but he felt he was up to it. Anyway, he did not want to ride part of the way on the bus as that seemed a waste of money. If he had a good haul, however, he would definitely consider public transportation on the way back. Even though Max was not a Methodist, he was headed to the Methodist church.
Next door to the church stood a small wooden building. It was painted grey, like the church building, and it seemed too small for most uses. No one recalls why the building was there originally, but now it served as the neighborhood food pantry. Three churches participated in the collection of goods. Each took 1 Sunday a month to collect canned goods and non-perishable items at their services and then bring them to the pantry. The Methodist church got the honor of running the pantry because it had the extra space and the Reverend Lawrence J. Shepherd had the time three mornings a week to hand out goods to those in need. The fourth and sometimes fifth Sunday of the month found no collections and the food pantry was likely to run out of food. In the final weeks of the month, the Reverend Shepherd asked his own congregation to consider bringing in items again. If there was a fifth Sunday in the month, the good reverend was practically begging. He would call local stores asking for assistance. It was the small shops that would donate, never the big supermarkets.
It was a good plan to be at the food pantry at 9 am when the Reverend came to unlock the door. It was also a good idea to bring a sturdy bag with you, one that was good for carrying goods a long distance. If you had no bag, the reverend always had some used plastic bags from the markets and the donated supplies. People seemed more willing to recycle their old plastic bags than to actually give food or money, but the reverend was thankful for anything that would help him out.
“Good morning, reverend,” Max said in a cheerful voice. Max always had a smile on his face and seemed to absolutely light up when he ran into anyone he knew. People were as glad to see this happy person as he was to see them.
“Hello Max,” the reverend said. “I think we have some good items this week.” That pleased Max very much. He felt quite fortunate to be getting good food. It was not something that Max could afford on his own.
When Max was pushed out of his job at retirement age, he had little savings. Almost half of his fixed income went to pay his rent. The utilities and regular monthly expenses took about a third. He only filled prescriptions that were low-cost and skipped the others in order to stretch his funds. The little that was left did not exactly cover the food costs. That is why he saw the food pantry as a blessing that was bestowed upon the neighborhood in general and himself in particular. He just could not imagine why he was so lucky to have the pantry. He knew other neighborhoods did not have one.
After the reverend had gathered up a nice selection for Max, he handed him back his bag filled with goods. Max was not one of those people who asked for specific things from the shelves behind the counter. He was pleased with whatever he was handed. “I guess we will see you next week, Max,” Shepherd said. “Bless you.”
“Bless you too, reverend,” Max replied happily as he reached out and shook the reverend’s hand. It was just as if he was shaking God’s own hand right there in that little building next to God’s house. Of course, it was not the house of Max’s God, but he figured they all pretty much belonged to the same supreme being.
Despite a brisk north wind blowing right at Max, he bravely made his return trip on foot. He did not feel that being handed some excellent cans and boxes was any reason to turn around and throw away good money. His fingers and toes were rather numb when Max got into the small apartment and finally sat down. He would make the trip again the following week and the week after. The reverend only allowed you to come once a week. Few showed up on the weeks when there had been no collection of goods that Sunday.
Each Sunday Max made his way to his own church. They participated in the food collection once a month and did their best to minister to the needs of the parish poor. After such a fine selection of goods that Monday, Max felt it was very important to show up at church on time the following Sunday. He greeted everyone with a smile as he walked in. He paused at the back of the church where there was a small safe. In the top was a slot to receive donations for the St. Vincent DePaul Society for the poor. Max reached into his pocket and found a quarter, dime, 2 nickels, and a penny. He dropped them into the old safe. Even though his coat and gloves were given to him by the Society, Max did not consider himself one of the poor. Instead, he felt obligated to help out if he could. He helped on the coat drive, the Christmas tree sale, the donut sale, and other activities to benefit the poor. Why should he not help, when he had so much?
As he moved up the center aisle, Max spotted an empty pew. This meant he could get a nice seat on the aisle where he could look right down the middle and see the service. He stepped in, knelt down, and gave thanks for the bounty in his life.