By Jean Blish Siers *
My phone rang on Friday, showing an unfamiliar number and area code. The woman on the line wanted to talk about a piece I had written for the SoSA quarterly newsletter last year about our long-running partnership with Refugee Support Services here in Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency is a nonprofit that does amazing work helping newly-arrived refugees get on their feet with English as a Second Language classes, offering support in filling out job applications and school forms, and, once a week, providing fresh produce from Society of St. Andrew.
I knew immediately that she wasn’t calling to tell me I’d done a good job! She spoke quickly and was very upset. She hadn’t actually read most of the article, and was hazy on most of the details, but she felt that we as a country are taking in too many people. “We can’t afford to take in everyone and feed them and clothe them. And furthermore, why don’t they have jobs?” She was concerned about the countries that “sent them” and worried if they were safe to have here.
I suggested she might stop by the refugees’ Wednesday Help Center and visit with them. She would find them to be wonderful people who want nothing more than to build a new life here, become American citizens, and create better opportunities for their children. They do work – indeed, they work very hard, which isn’t always easy when the language and culture are so foreign.
She told me couldn’t visit the center because she lives in Florida. (I told her she should volunteer with us in Florida. We glean a lot of produce there and we’re always in a friendly race to see who gleans more pounds, Florida or North Carolina!)
We had a nice long talk, and I think she felt better about things when we were done. I explained a bit how refugees come to this country and the vetting process they go through. We talked about the aid agencies that sponsor them and work to get them on their feet as quickly as possible, preparing the way for the next group.
I told her that my mission was to get food to people who are hungry, and that I feed those who God has put in front of me to feed. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “ … as you did this to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” Jesus doesn’t qualify that or narrow it because of language or nationality or, well, anything. He says clothe them, feed them, visit them, comfort them.
She thanked me for taking the time to talk to her and I told her, very honestly, that it was my pleasure. I spend my days talking to people who love Society of St. Andrew and are passionate about supporting it. It’s good, every now and then, to talk with someone who challenges and questions me. We live in times when everyone seems increasingly polarized, and I was grateful for this woman from Florida who took the time to call me in Charlotte to talk, to learn more about what we do and who we feed, rather than simply being upset about something she had read.
Sharing food is a wonderful thing to do. Sharing thoughts and conversations is important, too.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.
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