Our city is fighting to survive. And along with the battle to stay alive and well, many are also fighting loneliness, powerlessness, hunger, and fear.
“I haven’t left my apartment for two weeks,” a customer said with an almost hollow sound in her voice. “I’m glad you chose today to come out, ” I responded, “It’s so warm and sunny. The perfect day for a walk.” I couldn’t tell if she smiled under her mask. She seemed flustered, and I could feel the amount of mental and emotional energy this exchange was taking from her. I asked her if she wanted milk in her coffee and there was a long pause as she thought about it.
None of us imagined that this was going to take this long.
Joe came in today. He paid for his coffee and put a few dollars in the tip jar. As I was making him an Americano he told me that he had lost his job. He worked at a bar down the street as well as another bar in Bay Ridge—both forced to close. Because of the loss of work and the inability to pay rent in what sounded like a complicated living situation, he now had no home. I was pouring half and half into his cup as Joe finished his story with a laugh, “So, essentially, I’m homeless. I’m going to go and find a shelter to stay in tonight.“
He walked out with a cool confidence that this was only a small set back.
I walked into the kitchen and cried.
Answer a phone call, I heard my friend Britni on the other end of the line. “Trish, there is a woman from my non-profit, Rosa, who is afraid to leave her home. She is a single mom and her son has an immune disorder. She is afraid if he gets sick, he will die. They are hungry, Trish. Is there any way you can send them food?”
Another friend, Carolina, told me that she had been asked multiple times that day to help cover the costs of funerals. She told me it broke her heart but she had to respond each time that she had nothing she could give the dead, all her money needed to be used to keep the living alive.
Within the storm of this pandemic, we saw and felt the fear pressing in. I saw it in our neighbors’ eyes as I walked past them on the street or made them coffee. I heard it in their voices as they told me about losing jobs or losing loved ones. Everyday as I watched the news, or looked at the numbers from the day—numbers of businesses going down, number of NYC virus cases going up—I felt the walls closing in. And then one night my husband Gareth and I talked late into the night, and we made a choice. We wouldn’t live in fear. We weren’t created for it. We would posture ourselves in surrender and, like the boy standing in front of a hungry and desperate multitude with his fish and bread, we decided to offer up what we had. Empty tables.
Empty tables and a better story.
Jesus began his earthly ministry with the Spirit upon him and a message of good news to the poor. Everywhere we looked we saw the poor. Poor in spirit. Poor in resources. We decided we would fightfor hope and against the dread of empty bank accounts, empty refrigerators, sickness, and death. Setting out to do this, we raised money so that we could give away free soup and sandwiches and fill our empty tables with food for anyone that needed it: those out of work, those experiencing homelessness, those discouraged, those who are lonely.
We began sending groceries to single mothers, most were immigrants, most were domestic workers, many were sick.
People began to ask us how they could help. They saw what we were doing, and they wanted to be part of it. We sent Joanna, a regular customer, with an incredibly heavy bag filled with items from our new food pantry to a family in need. We handed the bag to her outside the coffee shop and she carried it to a home a few blocks away, leaving it at the family’s door. Small children waved to her in the window and she waved back. We got to provide those kids with food. We got to tell them that they are loved. Speaking peace over their hearts and their home with rice and beans and bananas. Eggs and milk. There was a little less anxiety in Joanna’s eyes, it seemed, the next time I saw her. She was making a difference in people’s lives and that was making a difference in hers.
This virus is claiming too many lives, and though our list of people to feed continues to grow, we will fight as much as we can to keep hunger from claiming any others.
I’ve wrestled with the fear of my business failing ever since we opened, and the thought of my husband and children getting sick and even dying completely wrecks me. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night in the midst of a panic attack and immediately thought, with shortened breath, this is it. I’m part of the statistic. But as we shifted our perspective and posture to surrender, I’ve been able to look at fear less. And I realized that I was able to breathe again. I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I see Jesus all around me. I see him meeting me in encouraging notes from customers, I’ve seen his face in the homeless people that look me in the eye with gratitude. I have felt his care as a stranger hands me an envelope of cash and tells me to keep going, or a friend bakes cookies to give away, or people send us food for the pantry. I’ve seen him as the tables become more and more filled with soup and soap, oatmeal and beans. I look out at the cafe and our tables aren’t empty any more. And every day, I am filled with awe because that is truly a miracle.