I pull up outside Metro Caring in Denver where it is pouring rain and light pellets of hail are pummeling my car. People are rushing to their vehicles or the bus loaded with a week’s worth of food trying to keep from getting soaked. Of course my umbrella is in the trunk. I run to the volunteer entrance trying to shield myself from the downpour and I enter drenched.
Today is my first day working alone as a Community Navigator and I am nervous. There are four other Community Navigators in neighboring cubicles who generously offer to help me if I get stuck. Still, I have butterflies. Will I be kind enough? Compassionate about the circumstances of the people I will meet? Be able to listen? Remember their computer system?
I log in and arrive at the portal where there is a list of people who have made appointments. They are waiting to receive fruits, veggies, breads, canned goods, poultry or meat and dairy products. I am here to engage with them, make sure they get the food they need and have access to other resources they may want to ease some of their life constraints.
I take a deep breath.
“Mahmoud?” I call out.
“Here I am,” he says as he gets up from his chair.
Slowly he walks toward my cubicle, the one with the number 2 on the sliding door.
“Nice to meet you,” he says with a smile.
“Nice to meet you too, Mahmoud. Has it stopped raining?” I ask, trying to look outside.
“Just now, but I don’t move so fast anymore.”
“No rush,” I reply, “please sit here.”
“You don’t like the rain?” he questions me, “it is so good for us, you know.”
“It’s the hail that worries me, I don’t want to lose the vegetables I just planted in the garden.”
“I used to have a big garden,” and at that moment he is silent, lost in his thoughts.
“What did you grow?”
“Everything. Potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions, berries. I even had 36 grape vines in the front yard.”
“Grape vines? Wow, the shade, the fruit, the grape leaves!”
“Grape leaves? You know about grape leaves?” Mahmoud asks with wide eyes.
“Yes, for Dolmas. Our family makes them. I’m Armenian.”
Mahmoud is from Egypt and we start comparing foods that we love to eat. Then he smiles one of those cheek to cheek grins. “You like lamb, am I right?”
“Yes, I don’t have a choice!”
We laugh and he talks about how he sometimes buys a whole lamb at a farm in Eastern Colorado and shares it with his family. Mahmoud tells me he used to be a chef. He says he was the first to sell shish kabob in New York in the 1970s. When he moved to Aurora more than 20 years ago he started several businesses as a caterer, a vegetable distributor, a shuttle driver, and “I had a slaughter business.”
“I shipped all sorts of meat to New York,” he explained.
The experiences Mahmoud shares are larger than life and all over the map. So I wonder out loud what led him to Metro Caring.
“Last October my health went downhill. I got sick and was diagnosed with diabetes and I got divorced. I was eating bad food on the road and I smoked nonstop. I was driving for a trucking company and when I turned 60 this year, I had to stop.”
After providing for many people throughout his life, Mahmoud now comes to Metro Caring once a month to stretch out his food budget. He is blown away by the fresh vegetables and fruit that he often cannot afford.
“I know how to put things together with all these vegetables, this place is amazing.”
Food, whether eating or creating a menu, is a passion for him. Every week you’ll find Mahmoud at various local Islamic centers in the Denver area preparing and serving meals for hundreds of people. During Ramadan, he is busier than ever.
“I tell them to use me and abuse me when it comes to food. I love to teach people how to make the stuffing for grape leaves and peppers and zucchini, the right amount of meat and rice, it’s tricky you know.”
We complete the paperwork and Mahmoud smiles again and gets up to leave. But before he walks out the door he turns around.
“Next time I get a lamb I will call you. There is more than enough and I know how to cut the pieces you will like.”
Fresh lamb? I can hardly wait.
“I would love that,” I say and shake Mahmoud’s hand as he gets in line to receive his food.
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.