Hunger knows no boundaries. Each person I meet at Metro Caring comes here to receive fresh food every month for a whole host of reasons. One person is so hungry he can’t wait to get through the intake and into the store to ‘shop’ for his food. Another wants to make sure there is no way his neighbors will find out he has to get food here because his salary won’t cover his grocery bill this month. One mother is eager to fill her cupboards for the nine children whose mouths she must feed. And I’m stunned when one woman reaches up to hug me as she leaves my office, so thankful that she will have fresh produce for the first time in a very long time.
Gwen walks in with sadness behind that broad smile on her face. She shakes my hand as she sits down.
“How’s your Thursday going, Gwen?” I ask her as she gives me her ID.
“I’m tired. I had my first round of chemo last week and I know I need to be here to get food, but I’m so, so tired,” she says in a voice barely above a whisper.
“I’m glad we’re here for you, Gwen.”
“So am I, really. I’ve been coming here for four years and every time, someone makes me smile. I wish I could come here more often.”
“I’ll make sure you get everything you need today. You are a trooper, you know that?”
“Naah, my husband is the real trooper in our family. He has to go in for dialysis three times a week. I only have to go in for chemo every three weeks. I tell him, ‘Carl, I just commend you. I’m doing this for you!'”
Gwen was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer a few months ago. After her surgery, she started chemo and it will continue for at least 12 sessions.
“I just turned 60, and sometimes I wonder why life is so hard. But I know me and Carl have to stick together, and I’ve got a great daughter,” she tells me in the course of our conversation that ranges in emotion from sadness to laughter to tears.
“You know,” I pause, “don’t know if this means anything to you, but I’m going to think good thoughts about you and pray for your recovery.”
Gwen lets out a gasp, “Someone once told me don’t ever let anyone pray for you unless you know what it is they’re praying for, cause you never know. And you’re praying for my recovery. Isn’t that incredible? What’s your name?”
“My name’s Lois,” I reply and show her my volunteer name tag.
“Oh Lord!” Gwen slaps her legs, “Lois is my baby sister’s name! I was meant to be here.”
Gwen’s eyes open even wider when I ask if I can tell her story.
“You really write? I’ve never met a writer before. That would be so nice,” she shakes her head, “and your name is Lois.”
“May I take your picture?” I ask her.
“Yes you can. But of all days, I don’t have any lipstick,” she frowns.
“Well,” I reach into my bag, “will this work for you?”
And as I hand her a lipstick, she applies it and takes a selfie on my phone to make sure it’s the right color.
She nods her head, “Good to go!”
Gwen made my day. In the throes of chemo treatment that will continue for nearly a year, she is here to make sure her family has the food they need for a whole week. I suddenly remember I was worrying about something when I came in today and I realize a can no longer remember what that ‘thing’ was. I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what Gwen is facing.
She pulls herself out of her chair and becomes the second person to give me a hug.
“Oh, I’ll see you again. What about the lipstick?”
“It looks much better on you,” I say trying not to let her see me tearing up, “it’s yours.”
“Call me when you publish this!” she tells me as she walks out the door.
I guess that’s my next order of business.
When I was introduced to the work of Metro Caring, Denver’s leading hunger-relief organization I was amazed to discover the staff and volunteers are there to provide nutritious food to hungry families and individuals while promoting health and self-sufficiency. And on top of all that Metro Caring helps anyone in need with no income or geographic requirements.
Every Story Matters is a collection of conversations with the people I meet who give me permission to share how Metro Caring is serving their households with dignity and respect.