For the past three years, my colleague Eli Wenger and I have spent much of our weekday mornings and evenings with the hundreds of volunteers who support Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry that assists those in need. This year, our team brought nearly 1 million pounds of food to families in Montgomery County, an area that doesn’t often come to mind when you think of food insecurity.
I’m always moved by the tragedy of hunger, but beyond that, the feeling I’m most impacted by in my work is a deep awareness of our unavoidable connectedness. To see the effects of hunger daily and be left with a feeling of connectedness might seem odd, but it points me to hope.
In the messy venue of a food pantry full of people from different backgrounds, all trying to meet the universal needs of food and purpose, our shared humanity, vulnerability and potential all come into focus.
In “Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food,” Wendell Berry conveys the sacredness of our connection to our world through food: “When I think of the meaning of food, I always remember these lines by the poet William Carlos Williams, which seem to me merely honest: ‘There is nothing to eat, seek it where you will, but of the body of the Lord. The blessed plants and the sea, yield it to the imagination intact.’”
Although some of our brothers and sisters share a hunger of the body others will never know, we all share a hunger for connectedness. At Martha’s, food — the fruit of this living planet — connects us and brings us together. Even in the face of the terrible injustice of hunger, this dual need for food and love unites and unties us in a way offers a door to a better future. It offers a doorway to each other. And if we choose to be a part of this feast, we can begin to experience that better future, today.
The night after my first son was born, I ran on foot to the nearby Wawa to order us an indulgent 15-ingredient toasted hoagie. When my sandwich was handed to me, I realized that the woman who made it was an old friend. She had used our pantry before. When I mentioned why I was there, with a warm smile and joyful laugh she ran around the counter to give me a big hug. It was a moment I’ll never forget because of the love in her smile, her joy and that delicious sandwich.
We are all connected, and at one another’s mercy. Food shows us this so clearly. That sacred connection is a chance to remember the power of our own hearts, and take seriously the ability we have to heal each other’s hunger.
Patrick Walsh is the manager of Martha’s Choice, a choice food pantry and emergency food market located at archdiocesan Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center.
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