On the evening of December 20, 2017 I drove to Plymouth from South Bend. I wanted to visit St. Thomas’ non-food pantry distribution. It was one of those beautiful winter evenings. While admiring the sunset dragging gray-blue-gold horizons with it, I constantly had to remind myself that I could only watch the sun but never deem to feel it.
Once arrived at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, I could not see any one around, but there were lights inside the building. I entered and still could not see anyone there. Then I wondered if the distribution had been cancelled because of Christmas holidays. However, through the door, I saw a table set up in the parish meeting hall. I then looked at the time and realized that I was one hour early. Well, I sat on the pew in the hallway and read a few pages from a book I found on the church’s shelves before I went for a tour around the church. To my limited knowledge of Plymouth, I found the Marshal Courthouse to be the tallest building in the area, with such incredibly magnificent architecture.
After I returned from my tour, I met Roscinda Rinehart, director of the NFP (non-food pantry) at St.Thomas’, Plymouth, and one of the volunteers, who warmly welcomed me. Shortly after, I met Fr. Thomas Haynes, Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Plymouth. Fr. Tom came to me, with the same big smile as usual, and gave me a good handshake and hug, even though he seemed to have had a long office day. After I told him that I had been there an hour ago, Fr. Tom responded, with such easiness, that St. Thomas’ opens doors early on pantry distribution days.
“We leave the doors open”, Fr. Tom joyfully continued, “so that anyone who is there in time for non-food pantry distribution could find a warm place to sit while waiting for the opening.”
While I was still pondering the wisdom in Fr. Tom’s words in regard to opening our doors to neighbors and strangers, Rob Holl, Sr. Warden at St. Thomas’ Plymouth and volunteer in the non-food pantry distribution, announced that it was time to start. Suddenly, a crowd of people entered in the parish hall. We all stood up as Robert read a prayer. Normally, every beneficiary has to pass by the reception desk for verification, before she/he is directed to the distribution room to get the five items of her/his choice. St. Thomas’ Plymouth non-food pantry has a list of about 20 options from which, each beneficiary chooses 5 to take home for the week. However, that week there were gloves, scarfs, and hats that were given as additional options. Beneficiaries were allowed to choose one to take, on top of the usual 5 items. After distribution had been going on for a while, a lady entered. The reception desk told her that she was welcome to take one additional item from the ones spread on the table. Without too much waiting, she grabbed a pair of zebra-patterned gloves and immediately put them on.
“Ooh, I was about to die!” she said, closed eyes facing the heavens, rubbing her hands in satisfaction at the timely given gift. After taking a big breath of relief, she turned to the reception desk and in a thankful manner asked: “What next?” From that question, I then assumed that it was her first time to come to the pantry distribution. All those who came before her apparently knew the way things go. Could I say that that pair of gloves was the unexpected gift from Santa? Well, one would certainly agree with me that Santa Claus had come to St. Thomas’ Plymouth! The reception desk people gave directions to the lady, and the former went downstairs to get her provision. Later on, Fr. Tom told me that members of the church donate scarfs, hats and gloves for people who come in without them when the weather is cold. Moreover, a few of the women of the church knit hats and mittens to donate.
“What next?” That question kept coming back to me as I drove back to South Bend that night. For sure, the lady will come back and be served again. But, “what next?” Like that lady, so many beneficiaries have received warm welcome and been valued in their dignity by St. Thomas’ Plymouth. But, “what next?” Wouldn’t it be worth trying to bring that lady, as well as the other beneficiaries, to share her/their story/ies? Certainly, that lady has a joy to tell.
Sharing stories has a great potential to reveal hidden social and cultural assets. Furthermore, neighborhood personal relationships are the backbone of ABCD (asset-based community development). Could St. Thomas’ Plymouth organize a community celebration, like one evening story-telling for all (beneficiaries and volunteers) who have been participating in the non-food pantry distribution? In fact, an evening of story-telling could enrich the non-food pantry community by bringing people to bond with each other.