Steward Story: Jack

On a Thursday night in August, Jack's entered in a pig wrestling contest.

Jack likes playing with his rabbits, Kelly and Tulip. He likes playing video games and reading. "Amulet" is his favorite series. He writes stories and reads them to other people to make them laugh. He loves exploring mountain woodlands.

All this seems pretty typical for a 10-yr-old boy from Greybull, Wyoming, but Jack is not typical. If you ask him what he likes to do when he's not helping others, in addition to the above, he'll say, "When we go on road trips through cities, I always bring my wallet to give to people on the street."

Jack does yard work, sells t-shirts and popsicles at events, and accepts donations to support his regular charitable work. This year, he is hosting a back-to-school supply giveaway. He buys Christmas presents for kids in foster care...gave away 10 turkey dinners at Christmastime, too. And after being turned away from local food banks for being "too little to help," Jack started his own mini-bank, "Jack's Box." 

Jack's own words when asked why he spends time helping others and why kids should serve:

Hi this is Jack. I would probably say why should anyone in the world mean less than anyone else? We are all equal. Other kids should help because when you help others, it makes you feel awesome to know you helped them and made them smile. Even if you can't start your own box, you can still donate food or money. You can also help if you see someone who is on the street who doesn't have money or food. You can give them some of yours. You should help because God created us all, so we are supposed to take care of each other.

Googling "kids + role models" yields titles like "Top Ten Best Role Models for Kids" and "Why Are Positive Role Models Important for Young Children." My role model is 10-yr-old Jack.

Thank you, Jack.



Steward Stories: Neighbors

What to do when a neighbor takes everything? This was Denise’s question. “It’s hard to put something there for ‘anyone,’ and say, ‘well anyone but this person,’” Denise said.

Folks don’t easily overcome the scarcity mentality of poverty. Seems logical even that those in pervasive need would take everything. But that isn’t the case with this neighbor, who may have been taking items to obstruct. Despite its being in one of the poorest towns in Western Pennsylvania, this part of town is “a relatively nice, safe little neighborhood, the people who live there protective and afraid,” according to Denise. Perhaps the neighbor saw Denise’s church as the nuisance, its ministries inviting the wrong sort—the hungry and sick (NA/AA meeting attendees)—into her buffer zone. She wouldn't be the only one. Denise described the NA/AA meetings as “a [neighborhood] bone of contention.” A week after someone witnessed the neighbor removing items from the pantry, the neighbor witnessed police responding to an attempted robbery of church AV equipment.  

Denise entertained the idea of a camera but did not want to compromise anonymity. Instead, she and others she consulted decided to get to know their neighbor. That meeting did not happen in the way they might have wished.

Delivering LFP donations collected at a community event, Denise pulled up to the project. Someone was already there. She writes, “I kept driving past, as I didn't want to make them feel self-conscious with my arrival. I could see that they were smiling as they took a few things, and my heart was full.” When she came back around the block, the visitors were gone, and the pantry, too, was full—not an inch of room left to put in any of the items she was bringing. She decided to organize the contents.

Someone yelling. "Just take it all!”

Realizing the same neighbor was yelling at her, Denise was stunned. "Excuse me? What did you say?”

"Are you gonna' take all of it home?"

"I don't understand why you're saying this to me.”

"You're takin' stuff home, aren't you?"

"No... I'm with the church and organizing the pantry.”

“Oh," the neighbor said with a dismissive waive of her hand. "You're puttin' stuff in it.”

Denise wasn't dressed up or wearing makeup. Her hair wasn't fixed. She was the wrong sort.

American author, entrepreneur, and marketer Seth Godin writes:

If you’re seeking to create positive change in your community, it’s almost certain you’ll be creating discomfort as well….Usually, when we’re ready to launch something, we say, “This is going to help people. This is well crafted. I’m proud of it.” What’s a lot more difficult (but useful) is to say all of that plus, “and this is going to make (some) people uncomfortable.”

“(Some) people” includes ourselves.

 Note: Those who had been planning to approach the neighbor went over immediately after the incident. They told her if she ever had a need for food or anything else, she just had to say the word and the church would be there for her. When they asked if she had a problem with the pantry, she said no. Since this time, no further incidents have been witnessed or reported. Thank you to Denise for sharing her story and to her pastor for the Godin quote.


With friends like that, who needs strangers?

Yesterday a good friend of mine posted a video to Facebook that sparked lively debate between us. A woman on foot tries to escape the camera. She approaches a car, a Mini Cooper, as if it is hers, then walks away from the car toward a fast food restaurant drive-thru window, where she seeks help from the attendant.  She does not shield her face. A man films her. You do not see him, but his is the most audible presence. Over and over he questions the woman, accuses her. The description of the video reads, “Woman posing as homeless gets exposed.”

People react to panhandling according to their frames. I drive past someone panhandling and am reminded to practice gratitude for what I have. I choose trust and grace, not least because it makes me feel good. Others frame differently.

This post isn’t really about panhandling, though. Or about mine and my friend’s lively debate. It’s about what she said near the end of the thread, “Thanks for not deleting me over this.”

“Really?” I said.

Social media makes it easy to build walls around ourselves. Our opinions, even if well-informed, just echo. Folks who panhandle have no walls; they are figuratively “exposed” to the comment, critique, judgment of everyone who drives past them. No option to block, unfriend, delete the “panhandler." For that reason alone the activity adds value to our individual and collective moral conscience. We surely cheat ourselves when we block, unfriend, delete to avoid respectful, difficult conversations and thinking.

I said, "Really?!!" like it was so hard to believe when I've done it myself.

Blessing BOX

This morning, Blessing BOX's Facebook page featured images of its pantry at different times of day, proof it's being used. Also proof it's being stocked by others not directly connected with the project. I remember how great that proof felt. We all know people are in need but struggle with faith in those same people. Or with faith that anyone cares enough to respond to that need at personal cost of time or money or effort. Yes. I remember.

This morning also, I got a call from someone asking about a mutual friend of ours who's been absent from social media for some time now. I explained her family is selling its home, and the transaction became complicated--that, likely, my friend, being sensitive and stressed, was limiting exposure to the negativity EVERYWHERE on social media. I can't say I blame her. People across the political spectrum can seem so mean. of the reasons why the Blessing BOX post was a blessing to me this morning. At the macro-level, it may be hard to see, but locally, people do have faith in other people. People re-affirm that faith. Next time you need proof, check out what The Van's doing in Central Arkansas. Its mission is "to locate and love our unsheltered, homeless neighbors," and its motto is "No rules. No apologies. Just help." People are wonderful.

Post-______, What Will We Do?

Last night, my home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, hosted an ecumenical evening of Prayer and Worship in Light of Orlando. The sanctuary was full of people seeking strength, consolation, reconciliation, peace, etc. in the wake of the worst mass shooting in US history, an evil motivated by hatred of the LGBTQ community. Today, I don’t feel strong, consoled, reconciled, or peaceful about what happened. But I do feel grateful and proud that GSLC intentionally provided a space for people to be together, to feel the power and potential of loving community. I also acknowledge it had to be the spirit’s work that GSLC would wrestle with our welcome statement, full-inclusion, and ultimately become Reconciling in Christ BEFORE Orlando so that last night we could be that space. 

We still have work to do. Only a person who attended Sunday night’s vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal AND St. James’ vigil almost a year ago post-Charleston would be aware of the vast local support for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters over our Black brothers and sisters. Nearly all the people at St. James were members of that church. Only a handful of us were white. I won’t attempt to unpack all that. I will ask the question, post-Orlando, post-Charleston, what will we do now to love our neighbor?


Feed Communities

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with Kayla Norbash, Food Access Program Manager at Feed Communities. I shared a bit about the LFP. Then, Kayla shared a bit about Feed Communities, and I'm so grateful I got to learn more about it. At all levels, Feed Communities supports and expands local food systems. Feed Communities also has its own great programs: Farm to Preschool, Plant A Row, cooking classes, community gardens and food access initiatives, and--my favorite--The Ozarkansas Tool Library; those with a Fayetteville Public Library card can "check out" a tiller, and the organization just acquired its first mower! It's good to know this passionate, creative group of people works daily on addressing food insecurity in NWA.

If you'd like to learn more about Feed Communities, check out its website. (Follow the arrow or link below.) And if you, too, are concerned that one in four in NWA are food insecure, from its website, register for Feed Community's "Health and Hunger in NWA" conference. I'll be there!

This Is Happening

Another thing I might write about a lot is music. And LCD Soundsystem is a favorite, so, yes, "This Is Happening." What I mean by that is a flurry of activity organized around getting additional LFP sites up and running. One of those is The Little Free Pantry-Little Rock, which I've referenced. (Follow the arrow.) Like their page. Want to do one better? Share their page. The more people reached, the broader the potential impact of the project.

In seemingly-unrelated-yet-tangential news...HRC. You all can't see my Facebook page metrics but probably wouldn't be surprised to know 88% of those who have "liked" my page are women. I know more women use Facebook, but it niggled. So I reached out about it to someone doing anti- hunger work professionally. Her words, "And amen on the women in anti- hunger work!!! It's lady-powered like nothing else." Last night HRC became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, and we won't fix food inequity without lady power.

First Post

Developing the LFP website. Something I've never done before. Continually amazed at this relatively small box's expansiveness.

When I was a kid, the Narnia books were my favorite. The LFP is my wardrobe. It's also my House of Leaves. In grad school I devoured Mark Danielewski's debut novel as the Navidson's home devoured book characters. HOL is both a horror story and a love story; the LFP project scares me, and I love it (both being scared and the project itself).

I also love books and might write about them a lot. If you didn't guess, The Little Free Pantry project was inspired by Little Free Libraries, and I'm grateful to them for being another wardrobe for so many.

It's Summer. Let's read!