“The people who give you their food give you their heart.”
– Cesar Chavez
Every once in awhile, we need to remind ourselves to be grateful. Yes, at times life can be rough but it could also be a lot worse. It’s true. Sometimes you need to take a step back and reflect on how many things there are to be grateful for, one of them being food.
Do you know how many people in the world are starving? How many people go to bed with their bellies empty? How many families have to chose between eating and paying the bills?
Most of the time my biggest food concern is which restaurant I should go to for dinner or that I bought too many groceries. Quite a stark contrast when you think about it. But why would you? It’s out of sight and therefore out of mind. Only when you are reminded of others’ misfortunes do you actually start to consider just how grateful you are for what you do have.
When I Was a Kid
My mother and I have been part of an organization at our church for the last several years. We attend monthly meetings and go out on “call” to meet with individuals in need of support. Through parish funding we provide those less fortunate with non-perishable food items and a voucher to buy fresh items (milk, bread, produce) at their local grocery store. By offering foodstuff donations, clients can use whatever little income they have towards paying bills and other financial necessities.
Since I was eight-years old, my mother would bring me on calls with her partner Tony to visit those in need of a helping hand. People would call the church hotline and then be directed to the St. Vincent de Paul inbox. Every week a different team would return the calls and set up a time to deliver food and a voucher at their homes.
I am so grateful that she took me with her, despite the fact that a younger me would have rather been watching cartoons on a Saturday afternoon.
The Day That Changed Me
I remember one day in particular. It was autumn, that time just before the temperature drops, when the leaves on trees are falling and they crunch beneath your feet as you walk. All bundled up in flower-patterned boots, brown corduroy pants, and a puffy purple coat, I sat in the backseat as we drove to visit our last client of the day.
I remember feeling uneasy when we arrived. The apartment building was dingy and old and quite frankly, looked like it could be haunted. What? I was eight.
We walked down a sparse beige corridor to an elevator. No one made a sound as we travelled up the eight levels to visit our next client. Exiting, Mom, Tony and I walked down another empty hallway towards a dark blue door with peeling gold numbers painted just below a peephole. An interesting change of scenery when you live a good life in suburbia.
Tony, a frail old man with a gentle demeanour, knocked on the door three times before a short woman with long, wavy brown hair answered the door. She wore a yellow apron with a fat white chicken on it, a white t-shirt and jeans sticking out from under it.
Kim* was a single mother with three kids. She lost her job due to budget cuts, which eventually led her into a bout of depression. She was now in school again, trying to make a better life for herself but struggled to feed her family in doing so.
“Hi, sorry, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting,” she explained. “I was just in the kitchen.”
We stood in the doorway of her little two-bedroom apartment. The smell of something savoury filled the air. I recall deeply inhaling and wondering what exactly it was that flavoured the air.
As we handed her several bags of food, she began to weep.
I remember filling the contents of the bags earlier. Kraft dinner, cans of chicken noodle soup, dried pasta, a jar of peanut butter, a box of cornflakes and a cake mix. Nothing special, so why was she crying?
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she sobbed. She pulled Tony into a hug, struggling to catch her breath between wails of gratitude.
“It’s no problem.” My mother patted Kim on the shoulder and continued, “It’s what we’re here for.” I watched as my mom’s eyes turned red. It looked as if she might cry too.
“Please, come in, I’m making a lovely tuna casserole,” she pleaded.
We declined and suggested perhaps another time. Her large brown eyes looked at us sympathetically as she nodded. Kim looked so genuinely grateful that it was truly moving.
“Okay, I will hold you to it. I’m an excellent chef!” She chuckled. “I’m always inventing new recipes with what little I have.”
Kim smiled wide, exposing her pearly teeth. Watching her get so excited, I could not help but grin. She kneeled down to me and grabbed my chin. “What a sweet girl you are coming. I want to thank you, as well. You have done a very kind thing.”
I felt my cheeks turn rosy as I nodded at Kim. Tony and my mom grinned. Giving us a hug, Kim thanked us profusely. We turned back towards the rickety elevator and left.
On the car ride home, I thought a lot about Kim. I thought about how nice she was, but how her home was anything but. I thought about how her kids looked so happy as they sat on the floor by her feet with nothing to play with except each other. I thought about how grateful she was and I thought about the part I played… But most of all I thought about how lucky I was to have casserole whenever I wanted and not have to worry that there wouldn’t be enough for everyone to eat.
Several years later, my mom and I are St. Vincent de Paul partners. We make our monthly calls and feel happiness overcome us whenever we meet someone who is genuinely thankful.
Our efforts have become more than simply volunteering; these people and their struggles have become our struggles. We deliver food but we also lend a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen with and support when everyone else has turned away.
Doing better with each passing day, sometimes we see Kim around the community and stop to chat about work, her kids and recipes.
By the way, we eventually did get Kim’s recipe after all! It’s the best darn casserole ever, so I think that you’ll
like love it (see below)! Every time I make it, I’m reminded of that autumn afternoon when I learned what it really meant to be grateful for something we so often take for granted.
It’s true that sharing results in intense experiences, but why do we do it? On the surface, we share because it makes us appear to be good people. It’s a “fake-it-’til-you-make-it” tactic. The follow up effect is that you start to feel good about your kind actions. As individuals we want to be close to others; we want to create connections. We do this through creating trust and loyalty via sharing.
Though I didn’t have dinner with Kim and her family, food was still able to link us together. She wanted to welcome and thank us with her cooking. Her gratitude for receiving assistance inspired me to continue making a change within my community based on her complete thankfulness. Likewise, it gave me a new perspective on food sustainability and what we can do within our world to help give others the basic need of food and the joy that surrounds the culinary process.
How we turn our superficial actions into authentic sentiments?
According to Positive Psychology Program, one of the best ways to show gratitude is through sharing. Other ways include writing a thank you note, journaling and meditating. By taking some time out of your day to help someone else, you pass on the gratitude too. You can:
- Volunteer at your local soup kitchen
- Make a donation to a local charity that helps fight hunger
- Volunteer your services to organize items at a food bank
- Reduce your own food waste
- Visit thehungersite.com
*Names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.
Kim’s Tuna Casserole
* Makes 8 servings *
- 4 cups noodles
- 2 cans flaked tuna, drained
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1/2 green pepper, diced
- 2 cans cream of celery soup
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- Cook noodles in boiling water until tender and then drain.
- Combine noodles, tuna, mayonnaise, onions and green pepper.
- Blend soup and milk together, and heat until bubbling.
- Add cheese to the noodle mixture.
- Pour into a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 425° F.
Be mindful the next time you take a bite of something tasty. Think about how you can show gratitude for what you are able to enjoy and pay it forward!