For two and a half years, I’ve left work thirty minutes early every Monday. By 4:45, I’m in a church kitchen, helping the three or four people who arrived hours earlier. I know exactly where the cutting boards are, as I’ve washed and placed them in their holding spot dozens of times. I drop the white plastic board on the prep table in the middle of the room, and gently nudge someone aside to reach a knife stored under the table. I begin cutting and chopping, playing my role to create a meal.
The meal selections are a surprise each week – food is picked up that morning, and we never know what will overflow from the donated boxes. We’re accustomed to a few staples, bags of lettuce, boxes of fruit, and enough bread to feed 200 people and their neighbors. I’ve become a pro apple-chopper and we’ve exhausted apple recipes that can be made in less than one hour.
Volunteers trickle in, one at a time at first, then in multiples until the kitchen crawls with people cooking, cleaning, and boxing up dinners assembly line style. I jump from job to job, jumping in where needed and often delegating tasks to newcomers.
“If you don’t have a job, move to the next room!” someone inevitably shouts, as conversations begin to impede the last few tasks. I can scarcely recall that only two years ago, ¼ of this many volunteers bustled in the kitchen, trying our best to deliver a healthy and tasty meal to 200 people. Earlier still, we crowded into Ryan’s one-bedroom apartment and bent health codes to package the same amount of meals. Creativity flows when trying to wash giant pots and pans in a sink no larger than my laptop screen.
Smiling at the completion of another delicious meal, we make our way into the adjacent room to pray. We’ve become a community. I look around the room and realize I know these people and they know me. We see each other every week not because we have to, but because we want to. Some unknown (or maybe known?) force brings us together each week, one we can’t seem to escape. I want to be there, I need to be there.
Meeting adjourned, and we file out the door to our vehicles, carpooling and caravaning downtown. Friends are gathered, waiting for us to arrive, and I’m humbled to realize that these people waiting for food are exactly that – our friends. The majority homeless, they offer their stories and poems, laughter and tears, emotions and possessions.
The pronoun “they” changes to “us” as I tell Carl about my most recent date and he reminds me that I deserve to be treated well. As Chris tells me about the book he’s reading and offers encouragement when I complain about the rain. As Teresa walks by and I offer a vain attempt to smile and make her feel safe when all she wants is a giant salad and peace that I cannot provide.
“We do not make assumptions about the people we meet. We cannot know what life is like in another person’s shoes. We do not pretend to have answers for every problem. We do not bring judgement, control, disrespect, arrogance, or violence.
We are all hungry, so we bring food.
We are all shamed in our nakedness, so we bring clothes.
We are all broken, so we bring ears to listen and hear.
We are all scared, so we bring comfort.
We are all guilty, so we bring acceptance and honesty.
We are all living in chaos, so we bring peace.
We are all lonely, so we bring friendship and community.
We are all hurt, so we bring love.”*
Thank you to everyone who has contributed over the last years, through time, money, and prayers. Hundreds continue to receive food and friendship every week, we keep on as long as God allows. Building relationships with one another is one of God’s great gifts to humanity, I pray we will accept it humbly and with deep gratitude.
Please consider joining us. If you live in Nashville or are traveling through to hear your favorite band, consider offering your time. If you can give financially, we are honored to accept! While some of our food is donated, it still costs $200 – $400 a week for food and supplies (trash bags aren’t free!). We need clothing donations as well – especially men’s clothing, underwear and socks. Shoes, coats, sleeping bags, blankets, and toiletries are always welcome. You can donate through our website, contacting us personally, or by attending one of our fundraisers (see included photo).
Thanks for reading, and for joining us in the practice of loving our neighbors.
People Loving Nashville is a 501c3 based in Nashville, TN. Our mission is to bring hope to the needy through meeting physical needs and building relationships based on the love of Jesus Christ.
*Thank you to Julia Carruthers-Thorne for this beautiful poem.