20: Feeding the Soul

20: Feeding the Soul

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Feeding the Soul

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

~William James

White puffs of bread lined up in front of me, with seas of mayonnaise spread over them. How many times had I done this? How many more times would I be forced to do it?

The pink circles of meat and perfectly square blocks of cheese made slapping sounds as I threw them down. My dad would soon be leaving to feed the homeless.

Every afternoon we went to the store, and the people there would give us things that were past the expiration date but hadn’t gone bad. Usually we received things like sliced vegetables, pieces of fruit, bread, and slices of cake or pie. We gave these to the homeless along with the sandwiches and tea.

My father and several volunteers from the church gathered every day in the park to feed the hungry and teach anyone who was willing to listen about God.

Boy was I glad I didn’t have to go to the feedings. It was enough trouble just getting everything ready. I really didn’t understand why my father bothered with it. I couldn’t wait for him to leave. I looked forward to a whole Saturday by myself. I planned to watch some television, talk with my friends on the phone, and maybe do some shopping during the afternoon.

It didn’t take long for my plans to change and my happiness to dissolve. Dad came in while I was finishing and stood behind me.

“I’m going to need your help today. Some of the others that usually help me won’t be able to make it.”

“Dad, I can’t today,” I whined. “I have plans, television, friends, shopping, and I was maybe going to go to the pool.”

He just gave me the you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself look.

“Fine.” I pouted. “It’s not like I have a life.”

“I really appreciate it. It will just be us today.”

He left the room.

That’s probably because everyone else finally realized that it’s all just a waste of time, I thought to myself. You’re not really helping anybody.

I was really upset my day was now ruined.

I finished packing the sandwiches and followed Dad out to the van. I wanted to cry. This was going to be the worst day ever. My dad always drove the church van, which also contained clothes and small bags filled with personal items such as combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors, and deodorant.

He pulled out of the driveway to head downtown. I looked out the window and watched as we drove past kids playing in their front yards. I felt like a prisoner forced to perform community service.

When we arrived at the park, people were already gathered under a tree waiting for us. We opened the back of the van and pulled out a long cafeteria table and some chairs. I put the table on one side of the van with the food on it, while my dad lined up chairs on the other side for them to sit in.

In between the table and the people was a single chair for my dad to sit in. I watched as he opened his guitar case. He smiled at me and turned to his congregation to play, sing songs of praise, and read from the Bible.

I couldn’t believe how many people were there, and all of them homeless. I was surprised to learn my dad knew most of them by name. He also seemed to know what each one needed and what they had suffered through that landed them on the street.

One man told me if it hadn’t been for my father he didn’t think he would have found Jesus.

“Even when the weather is bad and the shelter has closed its door to us, your dad is still here. It’s the one thing folks like us can count on, and we don’t soon forget his kindness.”

After the sermon we put what food we had left into bags and handed them out. That’s when I noticed a man still sitting in a chair. He had a badly swollen, purple face.

My father noticed my stare and explained a member of a gang had found the man sleeping in the street and thought it would be fun to throw bricks at him.

While my father went to talk with him about the Lord, I climbed into the back of the van and started handing out some articles of clothing.

A girl about my age came up to me from across the street. Her face was stained with dirt and her dark hair was a mass of stringy curls. I noticed right away that she was barefoot.

“Do you have some shoes, about a size six?” she asked meekly.

I stared into her blue eyes for a moment, unable to believe someone so similar to me could live like this. I had never thought about the possibility of homeless children.

She didn’t look me in the eye for very long and I was worried I had made her uncomfortable.

I looked back into the van and saw only one pair of shoes left. Please let them be a six, I thought. I picked them up and turned them over. Exactly a six.

“Thank you!” she cried happily. She slid them on and ran back across the street. I felt all warm inside as I watched her leave.

When everyone was gone, we loaded things back into the van. Now I understood why my father did so much to help the homeless. I could tell he loved seeing their smiles of happiness. I did too.

I was so worried that morning about missing out on my fun day. I realized I should have been thankful for everything I have. That day with my dad taught me that there will always be someone smarter, prettier, or richer than me, and there will also always be someone less fortunate. The difference is in the individual willing to take the opportunity to help others, even if it means sacrificing something of their own.

~Sylvia Ney

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