A Sweet Potato in Your Stocking?

By Jean Blish Siers *

Charlotte, North Carolina gleaning coordinator Jean Siers with dedicated driver Bill Parsons

The past few weeks, I’ve been wondering about sweet potatoes in Christmas stockings. When I was a little girl, my mother always put an orange in the toe of our Christmas stocking, but wouldn’t a sweet potato work just as well?

Here’s what got me thinking about it: Just before Christmas, Society of St. Andrew hosted a potato drop at New Friendship Presbyterian Church in Huntersville, North Carolina. The morning of the drop was pretty darned cold. About thirty of us gathered with temperatures just above freezing and started bagging the mountain of sweet potatoes.

We were, as always, a diverse group: Christian and Jewish, African-American and white, children and the young-at-heart. In spite of the cold, the mood was festive. Some folks arrived in Santa hats. A few of us (well, I did) valiantly tried engaging the group in “gleaning carols,” but mostly we talked and laughed, and swapped stories and holiday recipes. I’d been to a Hanukkah dinner the night before and my friend Arlene, who is Jewish, told me about her family’s dreidel traditions.

It struck me how true to the spirit of the holidays that activity was, gathering together, sharing laughter and light, working for someone other than ourselves. The day before, I’d found myself in a suburban Target store. After walking what felt like a mile across a sea of asphalt, I was in a frenzy of modern Christmas. Shelves were bare. Carts overflowed. People didn’t look or sound happy. At the drop the next day, everyone pitched in. One woman made two separate runs to the liquor store, not for supplies for a holiday party but for free boxes, which we found easier to fill and load than bags. Two home-schooled kiddos worked hard all morning, leaving only when their mom said they had to get back to class. No one seemed to notice the cold – the work and the company warmed us.

Lois Kilkka confronts 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.

After noon, a few elderly ladies came out of the neighboring soup kitchen and asked if they could have some potatoes. We told them “of course.” They had some paper bags and we filled them. One of the ladies said, “I’ll eat a few of these, but I think I’ll give some to friends for Christmas! Won’t they be happy to get something like that!”

It made me remember the people at Target the day before, stripping the shelves and hurrying on to the next store. Would any of them have appreciated fresh vegetables in their stockings? At a time of year when we’re basically shamed into consumerism, the potato drop felt like a breath of cool, fresh air. It drove home to me how divided we are as a community and a nation, when some are happy only if they get the latest game system or the nicest watch, and others are happy to have something fresh and nutritious to eat and to share.

I’m going to try to hold onto that part of my Christmas season, now that we’ve reached Epiphany and the trees and lights are down. Maybe gleaning carols will never catch on (I’m going to work on some for next year,) but the gift of good food never goes out of season!

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte, North Carolina gleaning coordinator

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