Caring & Sharing

"The Story"
 

As written by founder
  Rev. Ruth McCully
   It was in the Spring of 1980 and unemployment was high and many people in Monroe County, Michigan and elsewhere in the country, were running out of unemployment benefits and, as a consequence, running out of food. In Ruby Seegert's Adult Sunday School class at Dundee United Methodist Church we were studying the gospel of Matthew. It seems that every Sunday our discussions would turn to the economy and I would talk about a Chicago group that Freda Kay's daughter was involved with called, "People Who Care." Freda said that these people provided food for people in need, not just welfare people but anyone who didn't have enough money to provide food for their family.

   This discussion, that continued almost every Sunday without fail, reached a boiling point the Sunday we were discussing Matthew 25:31-45. This is it from Eugene Peterson's The Message , Jesus is talking to his disciples about who would be welcomed in God's Kingdom. "When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left." "Then the king would say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.' "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored,, that was me----you did it to me.'" "Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because: I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'" "Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?' He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored that was me---you failed to do it to me. Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

   When Ruby read that scripture it led us back into another lively discussion about the economy, which led to my mentioning again the "People Who Care" group in Chicago, which led Jack Cooley to throw his hands in the air and say, "Please, Ruth! Stop! Either tell us what to do to get something started or don't mention those people again!" Well, that certainly got my attention. In hindsight, I believe that God was talking to me when Freda told me about her daughter's experience with the "People Who Care" in Chicago. I also believe that every Sunday when I would bring it up in class God was reminding me. When I still didn't listen to God and take action, God had Jack yell at me!

   Well, that did it. Never one to resist a challenge we organized a group that coordinated a huge rummage sale in the church parking lot. Near the end of the day Rollo Juckett auctioned off everything that was left and we had something in excess of $200.00 to buy food. By the first of November we had planned the "when" and the "where" of the distribution of that food, and we placed an ad in the Dundee reporter newspaper, and of course no one showed up. Duh!!! How many low income people are going to spend their money on newspapers??? But, we learned from our mistake. Before our next distribution, which was to be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we put up signs in the post office where low income families picked up their food stamps (at that time) and we put up signs in the two Laundromats; and so many people showed up that we ran out of food and several people went away empty-handed.

   We had purchased cases of soup and peanut butter and tuna fish and bread, spending all of the rummage sale money, but obviously, it wasn't enough. We felt so bad and were so upset that none of us there had sense enough to ask for names and addresses so we could take food to those who didn't get any. The next day was Thanksgiving and I couldn't eat my dinner. But, again, we learned from our mistake.

   We told our story in church that Sunday and with the generous sum of money that was donated we bought more food. The church was very supportive of the Caring and Sharing program and we always had enough food for the people during our once-a-week distributions; however, to be prepared for the possibility that we might run out of food again, we started a card file with the names and addresses of the people and had them sign for their food each time. We were finally up and running.

   One Wednesday afternoon Pastor Bill Smith was really touched by the sight of one very hungry family that took their groceries to their car and immediately made (and ate) peanut butter sandwiches, right there in the church parking lot. Laundry soap and dried milk and navy beans were bought in bulk and bagged by our volunteers for distribution. My husband, Don, and Ed Proctor went to Saginaw or Bay City to pick up the beans. After about three or four years we discontinued all of these commodities when many people didn't like Sears laundry soap, didn't like the taste of reconstituted dry milk, and although we gave recipes along with the beans, most people didn't want them either.

   There were some heated discussions in Sunday School class regarding whether or not there should be guidelines concerning eligibility to receive foods. I felt strongly that anyone who asked for food should receive it; however I could see the logic of those who argued that good stewardship in managing the money given for Caring and Sharing would require proof that the people who received the food really were in need. I was such a tender-heart that I cried whenever someone was turned away. That's when our policy was developed, that when people were turned away because they didn't qualify under our established guidelines, they were given a bag of groceries that one time so they wouldn't be embarrassed by walking out empty-handed. Later when the Monroe County Food Bank was established the food closets around the county were modeled after our Caring and Sharing program and our guidelines were adopted county-wide. Ed and Don, were involved in the development of the County Food Bank and Ed has continued through the years to be actively involved in that program, which now is operating under the auspices of Monroe County Opportunity Program.(MCOP)

   Over the years the economy improved and many food closet closed. Caring and Sharing took over the feeding of low income families from Ida, Petersburg and Blissfield when their food closets closed because we believe that it isn't up to us to choose when God's program closes down we firmly believe God will let us know when and if that time ever comes. Our distributions did change from weekly to twice a month and then to monthly with the amount of food available to give increasing greatly. Instead of doling out food on a weekly basis, we give a month's worth of supplements, storing it in their cupboards instead of ours. Several years ago the Thanksgiving distribution was added.

   Then a few years later Margaret Fisk (a.k.a. the Doll Lady) asked if she could bring some coats and some stuffed animals and toys to distribute during the Thanksgiving food distribution. Margaret had garage sales all year long and would take that money to buy new hats, socks, and mittens for the children's Christmases Eventually, instead of giving it all at Thanksgiving, another special distribution date was established for Christmas gifts nearer Christmas. The whole program was growing with gently used clothing being added. More and more people and churches were asking how they could help so the Interfaith Council and Caring and Sharing joined forces and we are always happy when someone new wants to be a part of God's project here in our corner of Monroe County.

   Several years ago one of my first grade students who lived out in London Township asked me every day if we were going to have lunch at school that day. When I'd say "yes" his eyes would light up and his smile was from ear to ear. It was obvious that lunch was his first meal of the day; so until the school finally started a breakfast program this little guy would stop in every morning at the school's speech therapist's office for a breakfast of yogurt, bagels, and fruit. She and I worked very hard to get that breakfast program going because we realized that there were many more kids coming to school without breakfast. Caring and Sharing also contacted Marva Anderson at the London Township Hall and arranged to begin a food distribution there for the folks in that area. That was when we first put a big emphasis on giving lots of dry cereal so that kids will have something that they can fix for themselves.

   There are many stories that we can tell to confirm God's hand in this project. I'll share just a few with you:

   A migrant family stopped at the church on a Wednesday evening during Bible Study. The food distribution had been finished a couple of hours earlier; but these folks desperately needed food and bedding. Of course we had food to give to them and we even had the bedding---a big stack of it that had been donated just a few days before and had been laundered by a volunteer and just returned to the church minutes before the family arrived. The Bible Study group shared lots of smiles and hugs with the family before prayerfully sending them on their way.

   Another time a woman came to Caring and Sharing for the first time and said that what she needed more than anything was formula for her new baby. Since formula is something that we don't purchase I told her that I doubted very much that we would have any but when she said that she'd prayed about it I told her I would check to make sure. When I told Ed what the woman needed he grinned and pointed to 6 cases of baby formula; donated that morning by a parishioner whose baby was changed to a different type of formula. When he carried it out of the store-room the mother burst into tears because it was even the exact brand of formula that her baby was on. The mom refused to take all of the formula. She took just three cases because she would be able to get more from WIC later in the month and she wanted to leave some in case someone else needed it. The mother was back at Caring and Sharing the next month needing groceries and more formula if we still had it (and we did). She told me that she had told her friends about praying for formula for her baby and they all laughed at her and told her that it was just a coincidence! She said that she and her husband had applied to manage an apartment complex in Ypsilanti, which would give them a place to live and an income. She said they were praying that this would work out for them and if it did she wouldn't have to return to Caring and Sharing. We added our prayers to hers so when she was back again the following month I thought the job had probably not worked out; however, she approached me with a big smile and tears in her eyes. She said she didn't need groceries or formula but returned just so she could tell me that they did get the job and were doing well; and the best news of all was that her friends asked her to teach them to pray. We hugged and shed tears of joy along with others who had also watched this story unfold.

   The day after Thanksgiving in 1995 Don and Ed and I agreed that we would give chickens for the Christmas distribution that year. We had given turkeys for Thanksgiving but money was tight and we could get chicken for less so that was the plan. The problem was that Don and Ed and I hadn't consulted God who led Marty Okkerse (a turkey farmer) to phone me to donate 55 fresh turkeys left over from Thanksgiving. He needed them picked up ASAP so he could return a rented refrigerated truck. Don and Ed and I thought that we could get someone to cut those 55 turkeys in half and we would have more than enough for the 105 families that were signed up for Christmas. I phoned Foodtown (our local supermarket at that time) and asked if they would cut 55 turkeys in half for us and store them in their cooler freezer until our Christmas distribution in about 3 weeks. They agreed and Don and Ed went to pick up the birds. I knew something was up when they came in the house several hours later grinning like the cat that had eaten the canary. Don asked how many turkeys there were supposed to be in that refrigerated truck. I told him 55. He then asked if Marty had said that we should take everything in the truck. I told him Marty said that he wanted it empty so he could return it that evening. Then both Ed and Don started laughing and asked if I remembered the story of the loaves and the fishes. They finally let me in on the miracle that had happened. They loaded the turkeys at Marty's farm without counting; but when they were unloading them at Foodtown a manager who was helping asked how many turkeys they had. When they said 55 and the manager said, "wrong, more!" There were actually 105 huge turkeys for 105 families. Later in the week I wasn't even surprised when someone phoned from St. Anne's food closet wanting to know if we had any use for several cases of stuffing mix. I should have known that if God was going to give his children turkey for Christmas dinner he would also give them the stuffing for their turkey.

   That Christmas 1995 distribution was Don's last Christmas with Caring and Sharing. His funeral was on the day of the 1996 Thanksgiving distribution. We had the funeral early in the day so our extended family could help in the food distribution. It was a great opportunity to celebrate Don's life and many people had stories to share about Don and the program that was so dear to his heart. One woman recalling the 1995 Christmas turkeys said Don knew she had a big family so saved the biggest turkey for her--- a 45 pounder! She said it was the first time she'd ever had enough food to feed her family and also invite her parents to dinner.

   And so God's program goes on. When age and health issues slowed me down, others were there to take over the tasks that I had to let go; and now they help Ed keep the program going. And there are many, It truly amazes me how many faithful volunteers are there every month to be God's hands, reaching out in love to feed God's sheep. God is good!

 
 
     

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