Hunger Is Not a Disease

Food and Healing: Communion

Why are you talking about having no bread? – Mark 8:17

“You shouldn’t feed this kind of food to these people.  If they are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”

There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food.  And, that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.

Food helps the sick and injured when the cook’s intention is incorporated in the “broth”.

Delicious food can be one of the last experiences of physical joy for the dying.

Food and healing go together because when you feed others with integrity, you help them heal.

Sharing food in the food pantry is a sacrament.

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The food pantry was in the basement of a church right off the village green.

And, I hadn’t even darkened the door in a church in over thirty years; not as a congregant, not as a guest.  The closest I came to the inside of a church or syagogue was a graveside burial service for an older relative in a military cemetery outside Culpepper, Virginia.  I also attended a Jewish wedding in a hotel in Baltimore.

When I became a pantry volunteer, I found myself in the local interfaith community, a stranger in a foreign land.  Right away I noticed that, intermixed with the need for peanut butter, shoppers showed a strong spiritual need for connection, acceptance.  This was the hunger beyond food.  The closest many shoppers ever got to a church or synagogue service was the pantry line in the basement of the building.

A food pantry is another way to have a religious service.  Sharing food is the prayer.  Food distribution in the pantry is a spiritual experience.

When things really get going, pantry volunteers regularly distribute thousands of pounds of cereal, beans, soup, grapes, lettuce, carrots, and squash, bread, cheese, eggs.

A liturgy is hidden in how we process the shoppers through the barn, the hallway, and the pantry room.  The pantry offers Communion to a group of people in the middle of a spiritual journey.

In the beginning, I didn’t see this.  Then, I began to get glimmers.  I saw things in people’s faces – I didn’t know what.  I couldn’t explain it.  But I recognized it.  I saw an expression, and had an “aha” moment.

This Communion doesn’t require much.  Shoppers and volunteers simply sign in at the food pantry door.  People came from all different places spiritually and religiously:  agnostics, atheists, B’Hais, Buddhists, Christians, Confucians, Jains, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Shintos, Sikhs, Zoroastrians.

Early on, I saw something in a person’s face but didn’t know what.  I couldn’t pinpoint, describe or explain what I saw.

The man who lost what he believed was the last job of his life…

The old woman with her toddler grandson who chose his own apple at every pantry visit…

The senior wearing a baseball cap with “Korean War Veteran” embroidered on the front…

They came through the line and took what they needed for the week:  tomatoes, a bag of salad mix, squash, onions, potatoes.  They received what they chose with no strings attached.  Our nation’s abundance stocked the pantry.

Volunteers distribute food unconditionally to everyone who shops, without exceptions.  Hungry people pour through the basement weekly and leave, their arms loaded.  Some of them get almost more fresh produce and Bread Alone bread than they can carry.

And, if they can’t carry it, Richard, Robert, Jamie, and Little Mikey (the entire Allen family) help.

This family has a mission.  They help get supper from the pantry into people’s cars and on its way to their homes.

Each week I opened the pantry when I unlocked the outside door with a key.  The locked building also housed a beautiful sanctuary.  As volunteers, we were allowed in the portion of the hallway where the pantry and storeroom were located.

Each turn of the key reminded me that a church with no one in it is just a building.

We encountered faith in the pantry outside the church sanctuary on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.  With little or no religious doctrine, these weekly encounters were as freeform and varied as a faith can be because the State of New York insisted on secular food pantries.  I felt our pantry represented civic religion – belief in things without including God.  Everyone going through the pantry had a different doctrine.

It was all okay.

The whole thing reminded me of the birthplace of Lyndon B. Johnson at the memorial built in his honor in Johnson City, Texas.  After spending time at the memorial, I realized I visited a deeply religious and spiritual place…but it was civic.

There’s room for civic religious beliefs in the pantry.  After all, worship can happen in the most varied placees:  inside a jail cell, a cemetery, on Facebook, at a family table, a roadside shrine, a person praying on a rug at high noon in a parking lot somewhere, a mountainside, a stream, a hospital room, a monastery.

All it takes is for someone to be alert to what’s happening.

For me, every shopper and volunteer has meaning and is cherished.  Each and every one is of profound value.  It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone else sees them as successful or beautiful or useful even.  Success, beauty, and usefulness doesn’t impact anyone’s worth.  Everyone in the pantry is worthy.

That’s what matters.

Looking back on my time in the food pantry, no one else saw any similarity between Communion and the food pantry.

Church members never noticed the most popular service in that building each week fed the hungry at the food pantry in the basement.

And, I didn’t either in the beginning.

Later, when I recognized the face of God, I got it.

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Hunger: An Introduction

The first time I ever saw a child begging for food was in Mexico.  I was on a car trip going through Monterrey on the way to visit my future in-laws in Mexico City.  When we parked the car in front of a restaurant,  children immediately surrounded the vehicle.  Small children held their hands out, asking for money for food.  Each held up little brown palms.  Their pleading faces looked into my eyes.

At that time, I didn’t yet speak any Spanish, but I didn’t need a vocabulary beyond English to understand the situation.  Their body language spoke of expectations, hope and hunger.

“Don’t worry yourself about this Coit.  They’re just after a few pesos.”  My soon-to-be husband tried to comfort me.  In my heart I knew different.  The child we discussed was about the size of a thin eight-year-old.  Teeth don’t lie though.  He had a mouth full of adult teeth.  That put his age at about twelve years.

In Mexico, children dig through trash for food.  And, nine years after this road trip, in Mexico City, a beautiful young Indian woman standing on a corner tried to sell her infant.  She approached my church friends first, an American couple in Mexico City on a study visa.  Bob and Sue felt they couldn’t get the baby over the border when they returned to the U.S. at the end of their class.  I wasn’t a good candidate because, at the time we discussed the baby, I was still married, had no visa or citizenship papers, and didn’t feel I was ever going to cross back over the river heading North.

Whatever happened to that beautiful baby?  Whatever happened to her desperate mother?  I’ll never know.

You want to talk hunger, then let’s discuss Venezuela and Mexico for a while.  Even now, years later, I remember each encounter with a hungry person or household as if it happened only yesterday.  I’ll never forget those people, the look of hunger in their eyes.

When people wanted to talk to me about hunger in America, it was a nonissue.  Hunger in America?  Whoever heard of such a thing?

Hunger has been with us in this country since the beginning.  Famous American history stories include Pilgrims starving over the first winter in their new home.  The stories of Mormons starving when they headed west are just two.  These stories are different from segments of our population going to bed hungry because there isn’t enough money for food.

Even though I’m the loudest mouth in the crowd when I talk about hungry people in America, I’ve never seen hungry children begging for food when I park my car outside a store or restaurant.

Somehow, in this country, hungry people keep themselves hidden unless they are in the food pantry or soup kitchen line.

I lived in both of those places.  I could talk hunger with you “until the cows come home,” as my grandmother said.  But America?  “Fuggedaboutit,” as I heard someone say once on a Brooklyn bus tour.

 

Thank you for reading this blog post.  It is an excerpt from “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles”.  I’ll be posting more stories from this book in the coming days.

I hope you enjoy them.  If so, please refer the posts to your favorite social media network.

But, whether you refer them or not, I thank you for reading this story.

Thurman Greco

Author’s Note – “Ketchup Sandwich Chronicle”


“Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” is about the spiritual journeys of pantry shoppers and volunteers experiencing hunger and incredible change as they traveled toward renewal and reclaimed lives. This story is, as yet, unknown to many people because hunger as it exists in food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, is still a taboo subject in our country.

Events and conversations in this book took place over a period of several years when I coordinated the Good Neighbor Food Pantry in Woodstock, New York.

Whenever possible/practical I reviewed material with people who helped reconstruct events, chronology, and dialogue. Based on these reviews and my own notes, some of these incidents were compressed, consolidated or reordered to accommodate memories of everyone consulted. This memoir was edited and rearranged over many drafts in an effort to be as accurate as possible.

All dialogue is based on my memory and the notes I took. The names of most of the characters (mainly, the shoppers) were changed. The names of some were omitted. Even so, there are no composite characters in this memoir.

If you read a sentence, page, paragraph or even a chapter that you feel is outrageous or untrue, it is nonetheless very real. Everything written in this book actually happened. It’s my story.

Peace and food for all.

Thurman Greco

Woodstock, New York

Thank you for reading this article. And, thank you in advance for reading this new book. I’ll be sharing it with you in the coming months. I hope you enjoy it. Please share it with your favorite social media network.

Thank You From Hunger is Not a Disease

Thank you in advance for standing with the hungry, believing in the dignity and humanity of those in the pantry, and for joining in the solution.
2019 is still new and I’m beginning the year with a new story: “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles”.
Throughout the coming year, chapters from this new book will appear as the book develops and becomes its own entity. Thank you in advance for reading them.
It’s time for the chapters to each find a place in the story. So, when you read them, you make this chronicle a reality.
Thank you for making this work possible.

Thurman Greco
Woodstock, New York

Please share this post and its follow on chronicle chapters with your favorite social media network.

The first chapter, “I Need a Gun” will be posted in the next few days. I sincerely hope you’ll like it. – TG

A Holiday Thank You Dear Reader

Dear Reader

In the spirit of the holiday, I want to thank each of you for supporting my work and following the story of hungry people in America. This has been a busy year for me and, without your support, none of this year would have been possible. However you found my blog and the story of hungry people, whatever keeps you returning, I thank you.

This blog has existed since February, 2014. This year has been one of few posts.

Why? Well, “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” finally published and I spend time now marketing and selling the book instead of writing and posting articles. Thank you for standing beside the hunger message this year. I pledge more and better articles in the coming year.

I discovered the Mower’s Meadow Flea Market in Woodstock, New York, where I had a booth on weekends for the summer and autumn. This is the perfect place for a book. People buy the book and return to the market to share their enthusiasm for the story. Thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy. I plan to return to this delightful place when it opens in May.

Each new reader and follower learns something from the story about hunger in America and each new reader inspires and motivates me to find new ways to share this hidden story. Thank you.

A second volume is on the way. I’m hopeful that “The Ketchup Sandwich Chronicles” will join “I Don’t Hang Out in Churches Anymore” on the book table at the flea market in 2019. There’s certainly room for another book about hunger in America. Thank you.

Thank you for reading the blog and the books. When you read them, we both learn more about hunger, a subject important to us all because there just shouldn’t be any hungry people in our country.

Thank you

Thurman Greco
Woodstock, New York

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