The Gathering – by David Nelson

The place will not be open for another four hours and yet
the people gather. There are three sets of numbers labeled “1-100” in colors of
green, yellow, and blue. On a “normal” Saturday, several hundred would be
served three to five days of food for every member of their family. Everyone desires the green numbers as they signify those that will be served first. Pre- COVID-19, all three sets of numbers would be used. Now, the community is hesitant and even scared of leaving the house. Nobody can afford to be sick these days.

As a result, the numbers at the pantry are down. At least two sets of numbers
and maybe three depending on the time of the month. Checks come out at the
end and beginning of the month and though there is always need, there is less
need at those times. Those that do not understand the need may criticize those
who rely on this place and call people that come here “entitled” or “lazy” as if
poverty is only a myth or a matter of will power. Better not to debate but
instead continue to serve. There is always uncertainty in these neighborhoods.
When people arrive at this early hour of 6am at this time of year, it is light
outside and the birds are up and singing their songs. The neighborhood is
quiet this time of day. The night shift people doing what they do went to bed
recently and those that needed to get to work are already gone. There is a
stillness and, at another time of year during the later fall and winter, it would
be dark. See, poverty, like COVID-19 does not care the time of year it is and
whether it is light or dark. Both do what they do, and, in this neighborhood,
there is little push back from those that live here. The residents and those that
arrive are doing the best they can with what they have available.

Dennis is always present on the day this place is opening. A big man, with dark
eyes, he keeps watch over the numbers and the front entrance. He too comes
for food for his family, but he also gives much to the organization as a
volunteer. He greets people with a smile and maybe an elbow bump in this time
of COVID-19. Those that gather here like appropriate hugs and touches but in
this time of the virus, it has decreased. The hugs are missed, and it is not
known when they will return. Someone says, “I’ll give you twice the hugs when
this is over,” and they mean it. The people gather and Dennis gives out
numbers in ones and twos – with a nod and a smile and to many “you are
welcome” to those that thank him. Small acts of kindness go a long way in a
world filled with scarcity.

They continue to arrive a couple of hours before the place opens. They come in
cars and trucks that have seen better days. Dents and scratches and sometimes
loud exhausts spew blue smoke out the back end. Almost all with brown rust
behind a wheel well or in front of the rear bumper that is bent from either being
hit or bumping into something. Salt and water and metal creates a cancer on
cars and trucks, slowly consuming the vehicle year by year – yet the vehicle
brings people. Some single families and some double and tripling up. Having a
vehicle is a luxury when you must haul six bags of groceries for your family. If
there is no auto, people walk or even ride a bike. Just getting by…

They gather from all over the city. This place is not required to serve one zip
code and so they come – many with black and brown skin. Many languages
spoken here – at last count eleven, including sign language. See, hunger does
not care what language you speak and the only solution to hunger is food and
nourishment. Language never stopped this place from providing what they can
with what they have. Somehow, it all works out and the people are fed and
there is enough and seemingly abundance if there is sharing. The families are
small, and the families are large. Some families are directly related while others
related through kinship or culture. The sharing not only pertains to food but to
place. Some have multiple families living under one roof. People doing what
they do to get by and to survive.

One gathering place in one city, not as an anomaly, but as an everyday
occurrence. See, poverty is all around this city and in cities across this country.
Where there is a stark mark for those that have and those that have not. Better
not be on the latter side – but the line between the two groups is shrinking.
More people out of work and more people in need. Those that live in this way
know how it goes but what about the newcomers to poverty? Will they know
how it goes and where to go and how to make the connections to survive? Time
will only tell, and it is in the uncertainty of this virus that we must come
together, to share resources and to hope.

This is our community and we gather.