A couple of weeks ago, I sat in an volunteer orientation for helping with Family Shelter at Mount Zion. The program is run through the St. Paul Council of Churches, and works with local churches, synagogues, and schools to provide emergency shelter for Ramsey County families.
As we learned what our responsibilities are and how we can serve our guests best, Judi, one of the main coordinators, mentioned that most of the snacks and entertainment will be provided by Project Home and our temple, but our group leader may ask us to bring snacks or something with us as volunteers.
Visions of homemade platters of brownies, cakes, and yummy breads run through my mind.
“What kinds of stuff would be helpful to bring? Canned goods?” asks one volunteer. And then, to my immediate surprise, Judi tells us that, while it might seem fun to bring a “treat” like donuts or cupcakes, fresh fruit is always the most appreciated item that gets served.
The kids can’t stop eating watermelon and grapes.
And I think to myself, “Duh,” and feel a little shamefully stupid and naive. Of course perishable items would be highly desirable if you’ve been struggling to put food on the table; if you’ve been using a food shelf (which often doesn’t have access to much fresh produce); if you’ve been living out of your car; and, if you’ve basically not had access to a fridge (so that it keeps).
It’s all well and good to talk about saving money and eating organically by growing your own vegetables, but it’s impossible to do if you’ve just lost your housing.
The good news? There are a number of ways you can help.
1. Uphold the mitzvah of hopitality and volunteer for Family Shelter with Project Home. Mount Zion Temple is a host for the month of June and there are still spots left for evening and overnight shifts. Pick up a watermelon or a big bag of grapes on your way to volunteer!
The Lord appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and bowing to the ground, he said, “My lords, if it please you do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought, bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch you a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves; then, go on, seeing you have come your servant’s way.”
Abraham was tired, but made sure these total strangers were cared for because they needed to be. Take a night this June to do the same.
2. Farmer’s markets in the area participate in Second Harvest‘s Giving Green program, including the Lyndale location of the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Somewhere at the markets you’ll find a table where you can drop off produce purchased at the market; at the end of the day, many of the vendors will also donate what they haven’t sold. Second Harvest makes sure the produce gets to food shelves and organizations that are set up to receive and distribute the freshly grown goodies. There’s a really great post about it from last year at Green Your Plate.
Leviticus 19:9 tells us “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.” You may not have done any sowing or reaping, but you can make sure the “strangers” in your land still have access to them.
3. Neighborhood House partners with the St. Paul Farmers Market, doing the same thing as the Giving Green program, except all of the donations are distributed through Neighborhood House’s food shelf. For information on helping collect items, contact Neighborhood House, or just look for them at the market.
4. If you’re growing your own garden or have a CSA, consider donating excess of these items to one of the above programs, share with friends and neighbors, or through your congregation or other organizations you belong to.
Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri ha’adamah. Blessed are you, Adonai, creator of the fruit of the earth. Amen!
Photos: Jill Clardy, wallyg, jacob.scheckman