Loaves and Fishes in Abundance
I am always surprised where I will find something about hunger and how we are called to help bring it [...]
Date posted: Friday 13 September 2019
I email Tiffany at Frogtown Farms the week before to see what’s on the produce list. She sends me back a list – zucchini, summer squash, green beans, chard, tomatoes, collard greens, onions, mint, cucumbers, basil, eggplant, and the list goes on. From there a menu starts to build for Shobi’s Table’s next Lunch at the Truck. Perhaps an additional donation from Merrick Community Services Food Shelf – a ham, chicken thighs, or corn flake crumbs. The possibilities are endless and so joyful! This summer we’ve made Summer Shepherd’s Pie, Tabouli, Fried Rice, Thai Summer Salad, Baked Pasta, Honeyberry Bars and more.
When I pick up the produce, free of charge, I am reminded of what a gift this creation is. Before me are crates and boxes of red, yellow and orange tomatoes, curling garlic scapes, purple green beans, and gleaming eggplants. I can’t help but think, “the gifts of God for the people of God.”
With these gifts nourished by God’s rain and sunshine, cultivated by our friends at Frogtown Farms, and then given into our hands for the next leg of the journey, it seems only natural to share it with anyone and everyone who walks by the big blue food truck.
That truck is Shobi’s Table – a pay-as-you-can café on wheels. We’ve been going strong all summer long, serving lunch on the corner of Rice and Sherburne every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. The seeds originally planted to grow tomatoes, zucchini and basil are now planting seeds of relationships and connections. The people are starting to recognize and remember the blue truck, and we’re starting to recognize and remember people’s names. Almost every time we see Frank, Hussein, Christina, and David.
Last week, amidst one of our rushes, there was a new pair of ladies. The first stepped up and ordered. The second hung back. I asked if she would like lunch, but she said “No, no thanks….” But she looked interested in the menu, so I pressed again “Are you sure? You can have anything on the menu, even all of it!” She shook her head and said, “It’s okay, I don’t have any money.” “Oh, don’t worry,” I said, “it’s pay as you can! It can be free or $20 or anything in between!” Her face relaxed and she stepped forward. “Oh! That’s great! I just didn’t know. I didn’t know.”
Shobi’s Table operates as a pay-as-you-can café so that we can help break down the divides that keep the seeds of connection and relationship across and within the margins from growing. There are so many unspoken rules out there that do this – even prices on a menu of delicious, fresh food that charge $8, $10 or $15 per plate really mean, you can only eat this if you give us the money. There are certainly good things about businesses making money to be able to pay their employees so they can have money for food, shelter, transportation, etc. Even with this system, not everyone always has enough money to pay for these things all the time, or even most of the time. And the thing is, we all need food every day.
I can’t tell you how many times I have already heard “Oh, it’s free? Really??” and then they reach into their pocket, pull out the 30 cents or two nickels, and happily put it in our donation box to help pay for the next person.
The plates we give out of delicious, from-scratch, nutritious meals are not just a transaction of food to feed the hungry. The gifts we freely received can only be freely given again. And gratitude, shown in a pocketful of 30 cents or a kind invitation, is the best response. The meal is where we give and receive in the same moment, allowing God to connect us to each other and to Godself deeper and stronger.
About the Author - Deacon Kari Alice Olsen is the mission developer at Shobi’s Table and the kitchen coordinator at Christ on Capitol Hill. The food truck ministry serves on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Rice Street and Sherburne (near the Capitol and the synod office). Community cooking nights are the Monday evenings prior. Volunteers and donations are always welcome!