by Diana Dawson
People have reported seeing images of Jesus in tree trunks and of Mary in grilled cheese, but I saw God grinning at me last summer from a dirty plate that held only the scrapings of meat loaf, green beans, and twice-baked potatoes.
Summer had been tough. After starting my job as Director of Community Engagement in June, I quickly discovered that we’d committed to provide 50 Welcome Home baskets to a new affordable housing complex that Foundation Communities was opening. In a little over a month, we needed to have a massive collection of bedding, kitchen equipment, and cleaning supplies that would help formerly homeless adults transition off the streets.
The generous souls of St. David’s came to church with armloads of new or gently used towels and flatware, pillows, and toilet scrubbers. Even though the pile by the toy house in the lobby grew into a mountain, I held my breath every week as we inventoried. We always needed more shower curtains, more plates, more laundry baskets, just more.
At the July meeting of the Women’s Group – with only two weeks remaining in the drive — people piled items on the kitchen counter in the Boyds’ home. Beth Hudson brought her grandmother’s flatware collection because she said she would have liked for it to help others. Cathy Boyd turned to her own cabinets and began handing me plates. A few had a distinctive red-checkered border that included the words “my cup runneth over”.
By the next week, we used generous donations to fund shopping trips at The Dollar Store, IKEA, and Target where we filled the gaps. More than 20 people gathered in Sumners Hall one evening to assemble the collections that stretched the length of the breezeway. As I arranged a basket, carefully matching kitchen towels with the border of that plate from our rector’s kitchen, I breathed a sigh of relief and realized that I should have had more faith than fear that it would all work out.
An Episcopal caravan transported the baskets to Foundation Community’s Arbor Terrace complex and hauled them into a computer room, where they would be stored for residents. A few weeks later, St. David’s hosted that complex’s first monthly Soul Food Supper. Rose Ann Duncan-Charnley organized better than a half dozen parishioners to bake meat loaves and twice-baked potatoes, sauté green beans, and make cobbler.
I leaned against the counter in the Arbor Terrace dining room on that August night and felt the goose bumps of gratefulness as I looked across the room. People who not long ago had been living on the street were being served a nutritious hot meal by our warm and welcoming volunteers, and they were eating that meal from plates we’d collected in our church lobby. One woman beamed, leaned back in her seat and rubbed her belly as I encouraged her to help herself to more. “I couldn’t eat another bite,” she said, pointing to her plate.
Only crumbs of meatloaf our people had cooked, a few green beans and a bite of cantaloupe remained on the plate that a good friend had handed me and I’d carefully arranged in a basket that welcomed this woman home.
A dirty dish had never looked so good. Working together, with God’s help, we could do anything.