Recently, I read a story about a woman, Sarah, who grew up in poverty and uncertainty.  When she was seven years old, her mother packed up a few belongings for herself and Sarah, fleeing from her abusive father to a small town on the west coast.  They had enough money to pay one month’s rent in a motel with a kitchenette, with enough left over to buy one bag of potatoes and a small shaker of salt.

Sarah’s mother enrolled her in the local school and then begin looking for work as a secretary, work she’d done before her marriage.  She didn’t have much luck because it had been over ten years since she’d been employed and a lot had changed.  But each afternoon when Sarah came home, there would be the aroma of potatoes boiling for her dinner.

A couple weeks after they’d moved in, Sarah came home eager to smell the potatoes boiling for dinner, but the pan on the stove was empty.  She waited until it was almost dark before asking her mother if they were going to eat that night.  Crying, her mom pointed to a garden across the parking lot that belonged to the motel owners and said, “I wish I could just go and take something out of that garden for us.  But that would be wrong.  We have to ask.”

Sarah and her mom walked down to the motel owner’s cottage and knocked on the door.  Sarah could smell the most wonderful dinner smells, better that boiling potatoes, when the owner opened the door.  “I’m sorry to bother,” her mother began.  “I’m still looking for work and I’ve run out of food for my daughter.  If I could just pick a few vegetables from your garden…”  Before her mother could finish the owner invited them to step inside.

Sarah saw a table set with blue tablecloth, plates, and silverware.  Between the two place settings was the juiciest roast beef with carrots an potatoes all around it.  To the side of the roast was a homemade loaf of bread.  “Just a minute.” the owner said.  Then she walked to the table, picked up the platter with the roast beef and vegetables and took it to the stove.  Her husband, who was sitting at the table, followed her with the loaf of bread and butter dish.  As if by magic, that meal went from served up on the table to a basket for her mother to carry back to their room.  There was enough food to last for days.  There was also an invitation from the owner to pick whatever they wanted from the garden.

The motel owner arranged for Sarah’s mom to begin work at a diner owned by her brother.  Sarah and her mom were able to move into an apartment after several months. Eventually things became “more normal” as Sarah and her mom felt safe in their new home.  Even with the generosity of new friends, money was always tight while Sarah was growing up.  She never really felt that she and her mother were truly a part of the community.

Now that Sarah is an adult with her own daughter and living a lower middle class life, she remembers the generosity of the couple who gave her and her mother ALL their dinner, gave them their very best, when anything to eat would have been enough.  Sarah is now on the other side of the hunger equation, frequently having the opportunity to give back to those who are in the position she was all those years ago.

One time, she found herself going through her pantry for a food drive.  She was picking out things she and her family didn’t like very well – canned beets, the wrong pasta sauce, ingredients for dishes that were never made.  (I can identify with this sort of donating.)  As she put a can of okra in to the bag she wondered if anyone would really want it or eat it.  She had a flash back to that night in the motel.  She put back the items that she considered “less than” and starting putting “good” food in the donation bag.

To this day, when Sarah donates, she makes certain what she gives is the very best, the same things she’d make or buy for her family.  What a difference that one act of kindness made in her life, in how she lives in the world today.

Most of us don’t have strangers knocking on our door asking for food or other assistance, so it’s hard to give up our cooked meals to those who need them.  But plenty of places in our community do have people coming to their doors – food pantries, congregate meal sights, second-hand stores, and agencies like Good Neighbor that offer financial assistance to those in need.  Thank you to all who are giving your very best to Good Neighbor so we can pass your gifts along to the Sarahs in our community.

Any time you are so inclined, you can donate to Good Neighbor on our website by going to the Donate tab on the left side of the home page. You can also mail a donation to 613 Clark Avenue, Ames, IA  50010.  Thanks for being a Great Neighbor. You’re the very best!