Three days ago I was nearly in a panic.
I have been taking calls, maintaining a list of recipients, and organizing our frozen food distribution program for three weeks. On the first Thursday of each month, our local Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference distributes frozen food to clients we have assisted and people within our community who have expressed the need for a helping hand. Through an initiative with Kroger grocery stores, the SVdP Conference Support Center in Atlanta is able to help provide frozen foods to the many conferences in our area and we are grateful for the opportunity to assist people within our community.
The response from our community has been nothing short of amazing. People have volunteered to help pick up, sort, and distribute food. Word spread this month and we were scheduled to help 98 people today. In order to help nearly 100 people we would need 10 fifty-pound boxes of frozen food. Our goal is to give each person 5 pounds of food, which should (in theory) provide them with enough food to supplement their diet for a week.
Three days ago, I received word that we would only receive half of the food we had requested for the distribution. My heart sank, my head was spinning, and I began to panic. I spent Monday working the numbers, dividing the pounds of food by the number of people, and the more I thought about it, the more I panicked.
Tuesday morning, during Communion Service, our own Deacon Gary read the Gospel and then spoke about the end of times. He reminded us that the end times could come many, many, many, many, years from now, or possibly tomorrow. He spoke about our wonderful Lord, and how he has been our refuge through every age. Toward the end of his homily he talked about prayer. Heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer.
Throughout the entire service, I could not help but worry about the frozen food initiative. I realized that the only way I was going to stop panicking was to turn it over to God. Deacon Gary’s homilies are one of a kind. No matter what he says or how he presents it, the topic always comes full circle and you find yourself wrapped in the moment, slowly consuming the Word.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.” Before I walked up to receive the Eucharist, I said a silent, heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer. “Lord, please help me”.
I asked God for help. I reassured him that I knew He was capable of feeding thousands of people with just five loaves of bread and two fish, but I was a weak human being and needed help figuring out how to feed 98 people with only 5 boxes of food. I prayed that He would guide our frozen food ministry, and show me how to feed our own modern day multitude. The geographic area of our parish is very large. People would be driving many miles to receive this food, and I could not, in good conscience, give them a pittance of food and send them on their way.
This morning, my oldest son and I drove up to the SVdP Family Support Center in Dallas, Georgia to pick up the food. When the delivery driver arrived, I introduced myself, and asked him if he had five boxes of food for me. He said, “No sir, I don’t.” My heart sank again. I should have known better than to panic. He grinned and told me that he had 10, yes ten!!! I was stunned, to say the least.
Driving back to Carrollton, I could hardly contain myself. I know our God is an awesome God. I know He works miracles every day. I truly believed He would provide the food we needed, whether it was five boxes or ten, and He did! But today’s story does not end there.
When we arrived back at the church, we quickly emptied the boxes, and sorted the foods. It took us 35 minutes to pack 48 bags of food. We would have had 50, but some of the meat packages were small, so I doubled up a couple items to make sure each person received a fair portion.
We counted the bags on the table, we counted the bags when we moved them to the cart, and we counted the bags when we placed them in the freezer. I know it sounds redundant, but the total number of bags determines how many bags we can distribute to each family, in order to provide the most food to the most people.
The distribution was scheduled from 4pm to 6pm, but when we arrived at 3:30pm, there were a dozen people waiting in the parking lot. Most of them were elderly, and the sun was a bit warm today. I quickly organized the distribution point and opened the door. We had 48 bags of food for 98 people, and no room for error, extras, or mistakes.
Four of the first six people were not on the distribution list. They had not called our hotline, they had not reserved food, but they were standing in front of me, and they needed food. I felt the panic returning. I was going to have to turn these people away because I did not have enough food after all. I felt like a schmuck. Time stood still, but in that one moment I realized what I was supposed to do. I took each person’s name, entered them in my log sheet, and gave each person a bag of food.
After the initial crowd received their food, I decided to count the number of bags still on the shelf so I could re-work the numbers and spread the remaining food as far as I could. We distributed food to four people who were not on our distribution list, so we should have been four bags short. But we weren’t. When we counted (and recounted) the bags, we had exactly the number we needed to provide food to the remaining people on our list.
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, we had more and more people show up that were not on the list. I took their names and gave them food. I did not turn anyone away.
By the end of the day, we had distributed 56 bags of food, assisting 115 people. Eight people did not show up and 12 bags remained on the shelf. Now that was the miracle God was working on this first Thursday of June.
All afternoon I thought the miracle was receiving 10 boxes of food, little did I know that He had something else in mind. A better idea, a greater plan. There is no doubt that we only had 500 pounds of food, in 48 bags, to help 98 people.
“When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’ So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (John 6:12-13)
Something tells me that only God can explain today’s events, but I need no explanation. I am grateful for the miracle that occurred, and I am humbled to have experienced it first hand. God answered my prayer, and I learned through heartfelt, honest, sincere prayer, that silence truly is the first language of God.