Every Saturday morning, my husband Jim and I are privileged to feed Sanford’s homeless, a program aptly called Grace and Grits. The kitchen buzzes as the bacon sizzles and scrambled eggs are drained from huge frying pans. Pancakes, grits, and sausages fill the menu. No restaurant does it better.
After breakfast is prepared and before welcoming our guests, we gather in a circle. We offer thanks for this gift of serving these less fortunate among us. Although of varied faith beliefs, when it comes to this kind of faith giving, we are strictly and beautifully one.
Then we fill their hour with some spiritual as well as bodily nourishment. I play the church piano. When the doors swing open and our guests come tumbling in, I belt out the old folk tune, When the “Saints Go Marching In.” The staff claps, a few sing along as our guests take their places in the food line. Father Bob offers grace before plate after plate is piled high with our morning fixins. It’s all joy and privilege to be with these sometimes lonely souls.
You need to know that I have special affinity for the homeless. Fourteen years ago, I married a formerly productive, suddenly penniless man himself. Following a breakdown, Jim came to question if he had ever been the money making kind.
But what Jim had, money couldn’t buy, and marrying Jim was the best thing I ever did. He never ceases to remind me all it takes is one person to risk making the difference; how in our case he credits me with taking that risk to make a difference in his life. I credit God.
As for these now destitute, Jim counsels, “Let’s beware of any drive for efficiency in our morning scramble. When these bent and unkempt souls pour into the hall, let’s make contact with each one, eye-to-eye, and heart-to-heart. We never know who we’re meeting. Besides, in my penniless time, that’s what I wanted most. Good God, even a ‘Good Morning’ would do!”
I draw meaning from these folks-on-the-margins. I watch that young African American mother walk ahead a slew of children trailing her, holding up their plates, eyes wide with expectation. I feel for the disheveled, bearded young guy who keeps his eyes lowered, the old wrinkled-faced woman whose hand shakes so much my hands are needed to carry her coffee to her place. These are busy survivors in a world grown harsh and uninviting.
Our fleeting connections are loaded with silent questions like “What happened to you?” “How on earth did you wind up here?” Hopefully, one by one they’ll tough it out, as my husband did years ago, until one day they, too, will recover a measure of safe life. Sanford, like other American cities, walks a tightrope between practicing compassion and keeping itself “presentable.” Still, much too often, faceless ones are advised to vacate park benches open to everyone else. We hope that some day we can offer these friends a hoped-for shower, lavatory, or locker to store their few possessions.
Feeding the homeless brings me face to face to what really matters—I’m part of their humanity. If I don’t participate somehow in their lives, can I be really human myself?
There is always hope. Not too long ago, the founder of Grace and Grits got a seven hundred dollar check from a formerly homeless man who wrote. “You fed me every Saturday! Take this and feed others.”