Thursday, August 30, 2012

Waiting In Line at the Salvation Army

This morning I took a friend to the Salvation Army to get food.  You can get free food there once a month if you qualify financially.  Today was our third attempt.  Last week, they were closed.  Yesterday, the line was too long.  And today, she forgot her ID.  She stood in line for almost an hour anyway, confident that they would recognize her or look at her file.  No such luck.  We left empty-handed.  Fortunately, I brought her a few things from my freezer, so I know she won't be going totally without.  But, this whole scenario has me thinking about the differences in our lives.

I've never had to wait in line to get food unless I was at a really popular restaurant.  I've never had to wait for a ride, to wait in line for food.  When you don't have financial means, you have to wait for just about everything.  Food and rides.  A ride to pick up your check.  A ride to cash the check.  A ride to the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul.  A ride to the grocery store.  Add a physical and/or mental disability and you've got a very difficult life, full of waiting.

As I was waiting on the front lawn of the Salvation Army, playing hide-and-seek with my three-year-old, I watched a couple sitting on the step, looking through their grocery bags and smoking a cigarette while they waited for their ride to come pick them up. Then, I started thinking about the price of cigarettes.  I asked my friend, who also smokes, how much she spends on cigarettes per month.  She said probably around $40, and those are the cheap ones.  She wasn't sure of the value of the food she gets at Salvation Army, but I venture to say it is not more than $40 worth.

So, if these people didn't smoke, they could buy their own groceries instead of waiting in line to get them for free.  It would be easy to stop here.  "Don't give free food to people who smoke!"  Done.  But, as I sat there trying to squeeze my foot into one of their shoes, I realize that those forbidden cigarettes are probably the single source of pleasure in their life.  Aside from killing them slowly, cigarettes are the closest thing to an "escape" as they've got.  If they don't have transportation, they are probably stuck at home more often than not.  They are probably living in subsidized housing where pretty things are few and green grass is something of a myth.  There is no summer vacation or Spring Break.  There is no eating out if you don't feel like cooking.  It says something to me, when you can breathe easiest when you are inhaling something that will eventually kill you.

"Assistance to the unfortunate honors when it treats the poor man with respect, not only as an equal, but as a superior - since he is suffering perhaps we are incapable of suffering; since he is a messenger of God to us, sent to prove our justice and our charity..." 

"God did not make the poor.  He sends few human creatures into this world without providing them with those two basic sources of riches - intelligence and will.  But, we allow intelligence to be quenched in ignorance and will to be weakened by vice." 

"And let no one say that in treating poverty...we aim at perpetuating it.  The Authority that tells us we shall always have the poor amongst us is the same that commands us to do all that we can that poverty may cease to be."  -Frederic Ozanam, one of the founders of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society

I worked for the St. Vincent de Paul Society for a year and a half.  For me, working with the poor is a constant tottering between frustration and compassion.  It doesn't seem like things have to be so hard for these people, but they are.  I hope one day I will only have compassion and my frustration will be swallowed up by it.

"God does not value what the poor have, but what they do not have:  self-sufficiency, a closed attitude, a presumption of being able to save themselves." - Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa

Dear Father of the Poor,  Thank you for the privelege of participating in the lives of the poor.  Thank you for their humility and trust in you.  Thank you for the ways you have blessed me so abundantly in my life.  Lord, please help me and all of those who serve your poor, to do so with a generous, compassionate, and loving heart.  Please remove any judgment that creeps in.  Thank you for teaching us in Your Word that we will be measured by the cup we measure with.  You always give us everything we need.  Help us to remember that we may be the hands you use to deliver it.  Amen.

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