63: Sixty Loaves of Bread

63: Sixty Loaves of Bread

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Sixty Loaves of Bread

In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.

~Flora Edwards

It all started with a single bag of groceries. My husband, son and I lived in a decent-sized, one-bedroom apartment. We were recovering from a financially difficult time in which we’d had to leave everything we had known due to unforeseen and very sudden circumstances. As we got back on our feet, we realized that although we didn’t have a lot, we always had enough.

There was no need we couldn’t meet if we put our heads together. Sometimes, that meant reaching out for a little help. It was a hard pill to swallow at first as neither of us had had to ask for such help before, but we’d swallowed our pride.

We found a freecycle/recycle group online that was local. Through this, we were able to furnish our apartment, and even find help with food for the short time we needed it. People were generous and willing to assist without question. Most had struggles of their own. Job loss and long-term illness in the family were two prevalent issues.

After our first month, we decided it was time to give back. I coupon shop and our pantry was well stocked, so I decided to put together a brown bag full of groceries to give away. It was the best feeling to be able to share with the community that had helped us so much.

During this time, I realized I often overcooked. Without an extra freezer, it was hard to store leftovers. We began plating up meals and offering up cooked meals at least once or twice a week, always including a homemade dessert.

Word got out. Suddenly, boxes of food started showing up at our door for us to share. Fresh fruits and vegetables that would have gone to waste at a grocery store and been discarded due to not being perfect showed up. Flour, sugar and other baking needs arrived as well. Orchards offered me the opportunity to glean, which meant I could collect all the fallen fruit for no charge.

Meals went out more regularly as a result of my posting, “For those in need or in need of a pick-me-up.” I never asked their stories. I was happy to share and threw myself into my purpose. At the bottom of the bags, I’d place a list of local food pantries just in case their need was longer term.

During this time, we discovered I was pregnant. I’d had several miscarriages previously and was terrified as this was completely unplanned. I was due on Thanksgiving. Throwing myself into doing this kept my mind and body busy.

I knew after the baby I’d have to take a break from all the food prep I’d been doing. I grew fat, swollen and more tired by the day. My husband and I had just discussed me needing the break when he opened the door the very next morning to walk our dog and nearly tripped over the cases of zucchini.

“It’s too much for you. Pass them on to someone else,” he said.

This bountiful harvest was left in my care, and no matter how he tried to convince me, I knew I had to do something to ensure they were enjoyed over Thanksgiving to the fullest. So began the next four days of some of the hardest and most rewarding work I’d ever done.

One loaf of zucchini bread isn’t hard to make, but imagine making sixty-plus loaves. I fell into a routine. Get up, prep all ingredients including grating a full case of zucchini, take my son to the bus, mix up and refrigerate dough, and then start the loaves four at a time in the oven. That oven went from 9:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night. The entire apartment building smelled heavenly. Neighbors knocked on the door for samples. I’m pretty sure even my husband and son smelled like zucchini bread as they left for work and school.

It was thirty-five degrees outside, but every window from kitchen to living room was open just to keep a comfortable temperature. I could hear people comment about the wonderful smell as they walked by our apartment.

I posted the loaves, explaining there would be an abundance. People stopped by hourly — some just families in need, some churches who planned on distributing or sharing the bread, and many single people who would be spending Thanksgiving alone.

I finished with a day and a half to go before Thanksgiving. I had two loaves left.

The exhausting adventure had left me practically glowing. My wrists and ankles ached, my back was sore, and my spirit was flying high. Still, one knows when the end of a good thing is near, and it was time. I posted one last time. I had a bag of Thanksgiving-themed groceries, a meatloaf dinner and a loaf of zucchini bread left.

In my post, I explained I would be taking a hiatus to finish my pregnancy and focus on my new baby when she came.

It was 7:00 when the knock came at my door. I will never forget the moment I opened it.

A father stood there with his head down, his arm around his daughter next to him. She was probably around ten or twelve. I’d never met them before.

I greeted them warmly, handing him the bag and her the bread. I could see her spirits lift right up. He raised his head, and his redrimmed eyes met mine. “I don’t know how we would have even eaten tonight had it not been for you. We… I…” He fumbled with his words as if an explanation was necessary.

Interrupting, I wished them a very happy Thanksgiving.

I realized the gravity of what I’d been doing. At the very beginning of the “I want, I want, I want season,” I was addressing a real need — not just the basic need to eat, but a need to receive with a level of dignity and privacy.

Too often when we’re in need, people demand our story. We have to provide proof, and it can be a humbling and demeaning process that can strip away our pride. Asking for help was something this gentleman had more than likely never had to do before, and I could see how grateful and appreciative he was. Thanksgiving for this family might not be a huge butter-dripping turkey, expensive desserts bought from upscale bakeries and wine, but it would be enough. Thanksgiving was not a day on a calendar for him, but a moment he knew he could feed his child.

Ingrained in my mind’s eye to this day is his smile, the relief in his expression, and the restrained emotion in his eyes. I never knew his name, his story, or even how their life went after that. Yet knowing I’d helped even a little was all the reward I needed, and I still think of him and his daughter each year around Thanksgiving.

~Nicole Rook-McAlister

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