Rain fell steadily in the Walmart parking lot as my friend and I pulled into a space in lane 4. We were grocery shopping for 25 families from our church’s angel tree list, something we have done now for four years with money set aside by our church deacons.
In the first year, our dietitian friend who oversees meals for a nursing home said she believed the food would cost $1000. We intended to spend only $700. To compare prices, we started at Sam’s, chased over to Kroger’s, breezed through Walmart, and finished up at Aldi’s. All this took a few hours. Even then we didn’t finish in a day. But we did feed 22 families for $750.
This year is our fourth year to grocery shop for angel families. No longer rookies, last week on Tuesday morning we drove directly to Walmart where we stacked 25 cans of green beans and 25 cans of corn into our carts, checked the price of sweet potatoes and spiral hams, then selected bags of Cuties. Our next stop: Aldi’s for 25 three pound bags of sweet potatoes and 25 cans of pineapple chunks.
After the second weekend in December hams go on sale with a limit of two per customer. Last year we took liberties with the limit. Nancy bought two hams, then Russell, then Herb, then Nancy, then Russell. We were stretching the standard of obedience to feed the disadvantaged, while getting a steady work out between parked cars and the meat department. This year Meijer’s waived the limit, bulk packaging hams for us.
Since not all our families can appreciate pork, we purchase turkey as needed. Sensitivity to diverse religious preferences is a new discipline for us. And a good one. Love, after all, isn’t about pork or turkey.
However, all this creative shopping isn’t the whole story.
As we were leaving Walmart, an exit clerk reviewed our receipt tape and counted each can and bag in our two carts. The woman wore a scowl as if she had a headache. Stress seemed to radiate from her. Her every move seemed fatigued. Counting was an effort.
Marking the receipt with an initial, the woman said, “I’m glad there are churches.”
We looked at her. The statement seemed unfinished.
“I mean churches do good things. But nobody goes (to church).”
Later at Aldi’s a cheerful check out clerk glanced at our bags. “How many do you have?” Our answer, “Twenty-five,” was sufficient. Nothing unusual about 25 bags of sweet potatoes.
Think about it: Two women checking us out; one with burdens unknown to us who hoped for goodness and charity but didn’t think many people intentionally tried it; the other apparently unscarred by misfortune who happily acknowledged our ordinary shopping mission. This is what people do: pull names off angel trees and go shopping.
These people are our community, their lives mixing with ours, our choices affecting theirs: Our privileges sometimes achieved on the backs of others; Our charity the necessary act in an unkind, selfish world. Our well being is formed from intentional acts of love, even when we do not exactly know people.
Peace and joy result from receiving and giving love. The Walmart clerk checking our cart wasn’t referencing a theological issue; she was hoping for more.