A voice in the wilderness: Fresh tomatoes

News | December 4, 2018

One recent fall afternoon, I spent time at Madison Market, the food pantry St. Paul leads at the J.B. Young Opportunity Center. I answered questions, assisted with shopping decisions when needed, bagged groceries, and helped keep the flow going. 

The first few families were quite used to Madison Market and chose their grocery items decisively. One shopper, however, was new. The yellow card clipped to the front of her shopping cart had the number 10 on it, meaning she had 10 mouths to feed. As we worked our way through the frozen food section, her face expressed surprise as she gently accepted a variety of frozen foods. She said very little beyond a “thank you” with each item she was given. Suddenly, she turned to me with a look of disbelief and said in her soft voice, “I’ve never been to a food pantry like this.”

In the fresh produce area, she saw the tomatoes and said “Wow, fresh tomatoes!” Her eyes and her smile widened. She loved tomatoes, she said. The volunteer there saw the number on her cart and offered her more than one bag. She smiled and said “really?” As she stretched out her arm for the extra tomatoes, she hesitated, looked at her full grocery cart, and said, “No, I don’t want them to go to waste.” Her concern and care for what she was offered was touching. Her life was not easy – she and a friend were combining their meager resources and families to keep a roof over their heads.

Madison Market helps families who are struggling. St. Paul people give their time to make someone else’s life a bit easier. It is a wonderful mix of sincere appreciation, compassion, warmth, and friendship.

In this time of Advent, as we wait and prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, I think of this woman waiting to go through the market and seeing her awe at the unexpected generosity she experienced. Maybe it is a bit like the feeling of awe I so often have on Christmas Eve hearing the story of Jesus’ humble birth and realizing the incredible gift of his life to our world.

Beth Laureijs is the pastoral residency administrator at St. Paul. She lives in Bettendorf with her spouse, Peter.

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