As the Executive Director, I do not normally get a chance to interact with the people we serve. I am usually stuck in my office with stacks of paper all over my desk (and floor), moving from one project to the next or applying for a new grant. Every once in awhile you might see me unloading produce or doing a promotional video but then it is back to my “hole” tackling emails and phone calls. Finding new funding sources or just trying to keep us afloat.
But today I was in the lobby, making copies, when a rush of people came in to apply for a turkey box for Thanksgiving. I looked down the hall but all the other staff were either on the phone, talking to clients or running errands. It was just me and a simple form… I was pretty confident I could do it. It had been a long time since I got a chance to sit with our folks and work our programs but after all, I wrote the instructions for the staff…so it should be easy. Plus, now that I think about it, I am pretty sure this was God’s way of putting me exactly where I needed to be.
See, it has been a rough couple of years. We have grown by leaps and bounds. We tackled Covid, staff illnesses and injuries, turn over and new grants. Worn out and weary is an understatement at this point. And we are at the beginning of our very busy holiday season. I think God knew I needed a push, a reminder… this is what we do.
I was getting a fresh batch of applications ready for the next group of people who wanted to apply for a turkey box when the door opened and a man came in the office. He was definitely nervous to be here and was very quiet as he explained that he needed help with his Atmos gas bill. You could tell his pride was hurting by asking. His shoulders were slumped and his face was sad. He had never been to us and wasn’t sure what to do to get help.
His story… He recently got custody of his 4 teenage grandchildren and he and his wife were struggling. They couldn’t pay all their bills this summer and since they only heated with the gas, they had to let it go and they were disconnected. Now that the temperatures dropped to 27 degrees last night, they need to get it turned back on. He said, “If you can just pay half of the bill, they will turn me back on and put me on a payment plan. Anything you can do so we can have heat would be greatly appreciated”.
We chatted in the office while he completed his application and the staff called Atmos to get the most updated bill. We talked about the weather, the difficulties of raising teenagers and how hard it is to be 70 and a parent again… and how teenagers EAT… like EVERYTHING!
I looked at his veteran hat he proudly wore and wondered if this phase of his life was harder than when he was in the armed forces. Today it sure seemed like it.
I asked if he got any bread as he came in… he didn’t.
I asked if he signed up for a Turkey box yet… he didn’t.
I asked if he knew we had a food pantry and he could come once a month to help feed his family… he didn’t.
I asked if he knew about Santa’s workshop and that we could help him with gifts for the grand children… he didn’t.
Today, we lifted that proud man up. We put food in his car to take home to his wife and grandkids, enough bread to feed at least 8 teenagers, instructions on when to pick up his turkey for Thanksgiving and the dates of when to sign up for Christmas. Plus, because we had never served him before, he was eligible to get his ENTIRE Atmos gas bill paid along with the re-connection fee and a little extra for next month! They would have heat tonight!
The smile on his face as he left our office told me that all the paperwork, all the extra hours and all the weariness is worth it. While I might not be on the front lines anymore, my work allows me to do what we did today. I needed to be at our turkey sign up station this morning. I needed to be reminded that this is what we do… That this is Maury.
I know it was hard for him to come in, his generation doesn’t as for help. They struggle until they can’t anymore and even then, we usually don’t see them. We made a new friend today. One that I hope will come back to see us every month. As he left he said, “Thank you for all you have done for me and my family”. But I think I am the one who should be thanking him. Because he reminded me of why we do what we do and that this is Maury… at it’s finest.