Welcoming the Stranger at the Church Door

This week, UUMC's Communications and Office Manager Abbi Telander is guest-writing the weekly blog post.  Next week, we'll hear from our Minister of Young Adult and Cross-Cultural Ministries, Chris Nkemba Ndjungu.

When I read the job description for the communications and office manager at UUMC, many things about the job appealed to me, but one of the things that stood out to me was the work with the Church Door pantry.  It spoke volumes to me that this community cared enough about the people in need around them to keep a stocked food pantry on site, and to make its care and administration part of someone’s job.

Being the gatekeeper of the Church Door pantry isn’t always easy.  Our policies of how we can help people are fairly limited.  People ask all the time for things I can’t do, and often saying no to someone’s request breaks my heart.  We provide two grocery bags of food and toiletries (selected by the person in need) and two two-hour passes for Metrolink/Metrobus every three months.  We don’t provide cash, grocery or gas cards, rent assistance, utility assistance, job placement, clothes, or any of the other basic needs many people seek.  We do provide information about agencies that can provide these services, and we let people use our phone to call them if they need to.  Even if I can’t give someone everything they ask for, I try to make sure they leave at least with a snack and a cold bottle of water or a hot cup of coffee.

The thing is, no two people who come into our food pantry have the same situation or the same story.  I’ve talked to pregnant single mothers, people who have just lost their jobs, grandmothers caring for their grandchildren (like the woman who came in while I was writing this post), people who are chronically out of work, people with jobs who just need a little help to get to the next paycheck.  People come in who have lived in St. Louis their whole lives and people who have just come into town.  Some people come by car, some come by bus, some come on foot.  Some are able to carry away everything I can give them; others only come for what they can eat while they are here.  Occasionally someone comes in feeding me a line, but most are absolutely sincere.

The one thing all of our visitors seem to have in common is they see our church and know that the church is a place they can go for help.

We are trying all the time to figure out how best to help the people who come to us, how to be their angels for the day or the answer to their prayers.  We are in the process of developing policies for people who want or need a place to charge their phone, make phone calls, or just be warm or cool for a little while.  We are bringing in a microwave into the fellowship hall so people who would like to eat something while they are here can heat it up. 

You can help us be the answers to our guests’ prayers too.  Your generosity and support are what keep our food pantry in business.  As you shop for donations to the pantry, consider not only what you would like to find in a food and toiletry pantry, but these scenarios:

  • What would you need if you were living in a motel room with only a microwave to cook with?
  • What would you need if you were homeless?
  • What would you need if you were not sure when your electricity would come back on?
  • What would you need if you were feeding just yourself and didn’t have a place to keep leftovers?
  • What would you need if you were feeding small children?
  • What would you need if you hadn’t showered in a week or more?

There is no sure way of predicting what people will and won’t need, because every situation is different.  What proves to be the most popular, however, are:

  • Food that is ready to eat with minimal work (cup o’noodles, Easy Mac)
  • Canned foods that already have meat in them (soups, stews, chicken and dumplings)
  • Canned fruit
  • Canned food that has a pop-top and doesn’t need a can opener to open it
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter (if there’s something to eat it with)
  • Can openers
  • Reusable grocery bags

And for toiletries:

  • Deodorant
  • Razors
  • Toothpaste
  • Full-size bars of soap

Every time someone comes in, they ask for something I never thought of providing.  A man recently asked if we had any clean socks.  He showed me his – full of holes, dingy, elastic stretched out.  I had no socks to offer, and he rubbed his feet and slowly put his socks back on.  As these requests come in, I will pass them along to you.

In the meantime, please hold our pantry and its visitors in your prayers.  Know that your generosity does not go unnoticed, and that every person who comes seeking help is grateful for what we can share.  If you have ideas or suggestions about the food pantry, please let me know.

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

--Matthew 25:34-40