How We Did Thanksgiving
This past week being Thanksgiving, everyone is giving away food. Groups have different ways of doing that. Elevate Detroit has a barbecue where volunteers bring food to cook on a grill hauled in a trailer. Transform Pontiac Now cooks donated turkeys, sets tables and invites anyone to stop in. We met folks who had pre-made meals who were driving them around and handing them out to strangers. Everyone has a technique.
So, when we were given twelve boxes of food by the Rochester Food Bank, we had to decide what our technique was going to be. As is always going to be the case, we decided that we’d be very intentional and very personal with the folks in our neighborhood.
That morning we arranged the food items in such a way that it was (somewhat) in logical clusters: pastas, vegetables, cereals, noodles, etc. From there, it was going to the people we already know in the neighborhood and inviting them over to rummage through what we’d been given.
First was a neighbor and her mother-in-law who sat around and talked to us for a long time before picking up boxes and rummaging through our stash. The mother-in-law, whom I had never met, talked for us about growing up in Pontiac and how it has changed. Then she started asking very real questions about why we are doing the things that we are doing: living here, serving neighbors, growing gardens.
Later we brought over another few folks, a mother and daughter and a few others. Finally, we had knocked on the doors of anyone we knew might be interested. Though that was the case, there was still some food left over. We figured that would work itself out some how so we left it on the table and went for a walk. While we were out walking, our post-lady stopped us.
“I just wanted to say that the things you’re doing in this neighborhood are awesome,” she said. We talked for a while about the neighborhood, where its going and where it has come from. We were parting ways, when I turned back around.
“You know this neighborhood better than I do,” I said. “Do you know anyone who could use some groceries?”
Immediatley she listed off an address for me to try, “88 Rolling Green. She might not understand, but she could use the help.
Later I jumped in the truck and drove the couple of blocks over to 88. The address was part of a two-unit duplex. Kids toys, clothes and dog poop littered the yard. Most, if not all the windows were broken with plastic covering them, or clothes stuffed through small missing pieces. I knocked on the door.
Inside, a dog began to bark. I knocked again. The dog barked again, but this time shoved its paw through the mail-slot in the door so that it could look through at me. Eventually, a lady in her mid-thirties answered the door.
“Yo, hello, whatchu want?” she said quickly and raspy, almost like you’d expect Macy Gray to sound like in conversation.
“Hi” I said. “My name is Cole. I live over on Newberry street.” I always say that to let people know I am not some guy coming around bothering people– I live in the neighborhood. “I was given a lot of groceries and I was just stopping off to see if you needed any groceries for Thanksgiving.”
“Oh whew, you like food Santa, hey! Whatchu say Newberry, wow. This my dog skit scat.” Each of these was said in the same quick tempo with little inflection, no eye contact. There was no linear thought. These were all obscure unconnected thoughts. She called me Roland Cole a couple times, that was weird
All of our conversation was this way. She agreed to come to the house, but refused to ride in the truck, rather climbed in the bed. She didn’t come in the house, rather paced in front of our house talking to herself and yelling at the neighbors while we made her a box of food. In that box we also put four scarves in case she needed them in the upcoming cold months.
We took her back to her house and she asked me to bring the box inside for her. We crossed the threshold of her door and right away the smell was over-powering. Her dog, as it turned out, was a large pit bull named cinnamon. Her couches, floor and walls were coated in a thin layer of aged dog poop, obviously because she rarely let the dog outside. The temperature indoors was the same as out. Her walls had several large holes in them. Her floors were made of plywood, not real flooring.
We walked back to her kitchen where she cleared some counter space for me to set the box. There were no appliances. Her cabinets were all wide open with nothing inside.
She, along with her dog, shuffled me out the door, said thanks and closed it behind me.
The next day we passed her on the street. She was wearing all four scarves that we gave her and she waved, yelling “Hey Roland Cole!”
I think of all the things that it took for that relationship to happen. 1) We had to have food donated to us by total strangers in a different city, 2) We had to be out and about in the same window as our post-lady, 3) The post-lady had to have a deep enough relationship with the woman that she knew she could use the help, 4) We had to be willing to go when we were informed of a need.
That is a lot of little things lining up to do something good. That, in my opinion, is something God puts together.