Jet LeBlanc, a Wedgewoodian, shared this amazing story during Missions Sunday at Wedgewood Church. Jet leads our Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich ministry for the homeless. Every other Sunday we make PB&J sandwiches for homeless people in Charlotte after worship. At 3 pm, the sandwiches, along with other food and drink provided by others, are distributed on the streets of uptown Charlotte.
There once was a young mother who was struggling to keep her two tiny children, one girl and one boy, housed and fed. Her husband was a sailor and spent long stretches away from home, but with some help from his family this young woman was doing okay. The small family was getting by. Then she got tonsillitis. She went to the hospital. They botched her tonsillectomy and she died, drowning in her own blood. She wasn’t yet 20 years old.
Nobody could reach her husband, who was at sea. His relatives came and took the girl, but for some unfathomable reason, they didn’t want her little boy. He was only 18 months old, but they left him alone to fend for himself. Oh, and the father? He never returned. Neither of his children ever saw him again.
A neighbor pitied the poor bereaved baby and took him in. He lived with her off and on until he was about 11 years old, but she was widowed and very poor. She made her living taking in laundry. This was during the depression and she could barely afford to feed herself, let alone a growing child. By then he was a wild boy, a fighter and a gambler. He lived on the streets and by his own wits from then on. That boy was my father.
Later in his life, he was able to overcome his disadvantages to an amazing degree. He joined the army, rose through the ranks, became an officer, and had a family of his own. His four children always had a home, and enough food, and clothes and toys. It was never a lot, but it was always enough. You might think he had broken the cycle of poverty and neglect, but you’d be wrong. He suffered, every day of his life, from knowing that he had been thrown away. When he died, it was from the diseases of overindulgence – alcoholism and heart disease. He ate and drank unwisely and too much. He hoarded food and had many unhealthy habits, all stemming from his childhood of food insecurity, chronic poverty and homelessness. It was not my father’s fault that he had been abandoned, but his entire life was damaged by it.
Maybe the homelessness ministries at Wedgewood mean so much to me because of my father. Because I could see in his eyes the legacy that hunger and want can cause. Because when I look into the eyes of a homeless man I don’t see a loser, or a threat. I see my father. And I want to feed him. When I see a hungry child, I think about my poor, desperate grandmother trying to keep her children healthy and I want to feed her, and her children.
The problem is huge, and we can’t fix the whole problem. Not all of it, and not alone. But we can feed people who need it. We can hand them a sandwich or a banana, and smile at them, and talk to them. We can recognize their humanity and worth. I know a sandwich would not have saved my dad, but it’s a start. It’s something real. In a world that has abandoned you, a sandwich can be a comfort, and a smile can be a godsend.
If you want to know more about the Sandwich Ministry, please come talk to me after the service. We will be making sandwiches and handing them out today, as we do every other Sunday. And we would love your help and participation.