It was Wednesday and Viviana told me she couldn’t get food until Friday. Viviana (not her real name) had young children at home and was eyeing the leftovers. We were cleaning up after serving a full course meal for 150 people, a weekly event in our church we call Beloved Community, and there was extra food to put away.
Viviana told me she didn’t want to take the leftovers that others might want, but I talked her into taking them. My conscience was on the line. I put the food containers into a plastic bag so it wouldn’t look conspicuous that she was taking the leftovers home and asked her to wait so I could forage the church refrigerator for more, including a gallon of milk. There were apples and oranges atop the counter. Maybe I should have run to the grocery store for a gift card. I could have asked a pastor to come up with assistance from a church fund for her. I wanted to fix Viviana’s life right then and there.
She was anguished in at least two ways – she had no food at home and she had to ask for the leftovers. I did my best to not hold a look of pity on my face as she told me her cupboards had never looked so bare, that she’d never been in this situation before.
“I’m a giver not a taker,” Viviana said. And by the way, she worked full time. She had scheduled a few hours of vacation time from her job so she could volunteer her afternoon to cook dinner for Beloved Community, but she had no food at home.
“We’re all givers and takers,” I said. What do you say to a friend who has no food without sounding patronizing or just plain dumb? In future weeks others joined me in quietly bagging up leftovers for our friend and co-volunteer.
Viviana probably doesn’t even know she inadvertently started a new practice at our Wednesday night meals. These days we handle leftovers differently. The cooking teams automatically box up the uneaten food after the meals and pile the containers on the buffet line, kind of like a Beloved Community Part II. We announce it from the microphone, “To-go boxes available.” We remove the embarrassment factor by opening it up to all.
I’m not sure who exactly takes the boxes home (besides me sometimes, and our growing population of homeless guests). The boxes simply disappear and when I’m on the clean-up crew that’s exactly what I want to see. One thing I do know: If anyone in that banquet room needs food to take home they can pick up a box of the most delicious leftovers in town without giving up their dignity in return.
Viviana made that happen.