by Luke Barratt—Domestic Build Project Director
“Are you hungry?” came the sweet, four-year-old voice of Meal-a-Day director Luke Barratt’s daughter. “Yes, please. Thank you very much!” replied the cracking voice of an aged senior hunched over a cart full of all of his earthly belongings. Luke’s own prejudices were rocked to the core by his four-year-old daughter walking up to a homeless man with a huge grin on her face and an outstretched hand. There was no judgement, no fear, and no stigma in her innocent actions, just simply wanting to share a human connection with someone. Luke’s daughter continued an exchange with him about her new skill of riding bikes while he hungrily consumed the sandwich she had offered and smiled at her. Luke kept a watchful eye on his daughter, and before they moved on, the man warmly shook his hand appreciatively for the visit with the little girl, and, of course, the food. The homeless man said, “This made my day, this really made my day. Thank you!”
During the third week of July 2016, 19 people engaged in a grand experiment with the generous support of Meal-a-Day: a committed “Week of Service” for youth and families coming together and doing service projects around Portland, Oregon. The volunteer group convened to execute the mission of Meal-a-Day in “showing the love of Christ” around the Pacific Northwest city. The week was truly blessed in immeasurable ways. Luke said, “We all came away with blisters on our hands, scratches on our legs, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude in being given the opportunity to touch lives. Though initially daunted by the task of finding projects for groups of volunteers, we ended up finding a deafening volume of need and were able to truly touch lives personally and spiritually for good.”
The spectrum of projects were diverse. They served as labor for a permaculture farm that provides both grocery store “seconds” while also growing organic foods for distribution to needy families. The Meal-a-Day volunteer group heard stories about specific families who, in one case, had only eaten boxed pasta for a month before the farm provided meat, which was humbling for them to hear. On the farm, they cleared fields of invasive weeds and also tended the pigs and adorable piglets. They later connected via a neighborhood senior center with a number of seniors in desperate need of yard work. The relief and gratitude on the face of one crippled 85-year-old gentleman was priceless as he exclaimed, “That’s been overgrown and worrying me for two years. I’ve been asking at church and can’t find anyone to help. It’s such a relief to know that I won’t need to worry about it until next season!” These were really valuable experiences and each one of the volunteer group, from the four-year-olds to the 40-year-olds, found they had a gift to share that truly touched lives for good.
When handing out food and staples to the homeless, one of the things they offered were stamped envelopes with pencils and paper, so that individuals could reach out to loved ones. They were surprised how readily these were accepted and appreciated. One gentleman, when offered, made the devastating statement of saying, “Thanks, but I don’t have anyone who would want to hear from me”. He did eventually accept a bag of food and was very grateful, but the sadness in his eyes yielded that the moment of happiness was going to be short-lived. His loneliness seared into the group’s conscience just how much many in the world don’t get to enjoy the spectrum of basic needs that the rest of the population receives. There is limitless need in the world, and the love of Christ working through the community as his living body, is the ultimate salve.
A cherished moment came one other afternoon when the group had left the farm with some additional time to serve. On the team’s creativity, they stopped by a peach farm, picked some fresh peaches, and headed downtown to brighten the day of the needy around the central square. The peaches were met with quizzical smiles and reckless appreciative consumption as fresh fruit is rare to a beggar’s palette. One team member spotted a lady pacing and looking agitated. When he offered her a peach, she said she urgently needed a payphone and asked if he knew where to find one. He immediately offered his cell phone which she accepted, quickly completed a call, and returned it with gratitude. He could tell she was still quite upset and asked if she would like to pray together. Standing on a bustling downtown Portland street they said a prayer together. This momentary act visibly brought a degree of peace to the lady. She walked away appreciative for the support, eating a delicious peach, and carrying an indelible impact of the Christadelphian who showed love, poise, and care in her moment of need.
The Portland volunteer group director’s team considered this as a grand experiment, since Meal-a-Day has sent youth teams into disaster areas to assist in rebuilding in the past, but this was the first time sending a team into a community to serve directly. By God’s grace the experiment was a success and they look forward to another week next year. With evidence of the impacts shared above, or the conversations about baptism with one who felt their calling in the work, to a thoughtful comment from an uncommitted young man who shared, “Now I see the true value of religion”, to a 9-year-old visibly emotional in reflection sharing how they realized “How much they loved bringing others joy”… this opportunity clearly brought the team closer to Christ, and the community closer to an understanding of his love.
The Portland ecclesia, Portland volunteer team directors, and entire volunteer group would like to thank Meal-a-Day for sponsoring this opportunity that was made possible by generous donations.