Thursday, November 23, 2006

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED # 28: The Stuff of Stuffing

SO, I ARRIVED AT THE DEKALB COUNTY JAIL's back entrance and pressed the buzzer.

"Do you have any of the items posted on the sign to your right?" a voice over the intercom said.

Suddenly, I couldn't read. A man I recognized from television as Sheriff Thomas Brown appeared next to me and, with his index finger, underlined each red-lettered item on the sign.

Cell phones.

Then, I realized that I'd ended a call just before I pressed the buzzer. Clearly, the voice over the intercom must have seen me talking on my cell phone over the security camera. Surely, it is what prompted her to ask the question.

There are few things more annoying than a person asking you a question they already have the answer to. And here, with the sherriff standing next to me.

"Yes, I have a cell phone."

"I'll need you to secure your cell phone before you enter," she said.

Secure? Like, in my pocket?
Rather than be a wise a$$, I assumed she meant that she wanted me to leave it outside.

"Um, okay. I'm going to put it in my car," I said. (I was coming to serve - not be served. I wasn't trying to spend the night in the DeKalb County Jail.)

I returned and rang the guard again.

"Did you secure your cell phone, sir?"

"Yes," I said.

She buzzed me into the barbed wired gate, and I walked up the ramp to the back entrance to the jail where I - without a strip search, without a pat down, without so much a waved wand - signed in and, within 3 minutes, was in a hairnet and apron ready to begin my shift for goal #28: Volunteer for Hosea Feed the Hungry.


Hosea Williams was one of the most outspoken leaders of the Civil Rights movement. During the 1965 march on Selma, he was beaten to the point of unconsciousness. This proved perhaps his most remarkable quality: his hard-headedness.

His motto was "Unbought and unbossed." In fact, Martin Luther King once called him, "My wild man, my Castro." Lacking the tact or diplomacy of King, Joseph Lowery, and Ralph Abernathy, Hosea never really got the national attention of the others. But Hosea's mission was primarily to carry on what King considered the second phase of the Civil Rights movement, which King began just before his assassination in 1968: the Poor People's Campaign.

One of Hosea's greatest accomplishments in this effort was Hosea Feed the Hungry & Homeless which offers hot meals, haircuts, and clothing for the needy in Atlanta each Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also providing job training and rent and utility assistance, today, the program serves over 55,000 men, women, and children each year.

I'd never seen so much bread in my life: White bread. Brown bread. Publix bread. Colonial bread. Bread ends. Bread middles. Bread stacked 8 ft. high. Bread from wall to wall. Bread for rooms and rooms.

I was assigned to a group of a dozen or so volunteers for the 6 - 9 p.m. shift, whose duty was to tear bread for stuffing for the next day's Thanksgiving dinner. In two lines of chairs, we faced each other: elderly, young; Black, Asian, White; each leaned over a 30-gallon bag waiting to be filled.

19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.

Like clockwork, we took loaves, opened them, and tore and tore and tore the bread; four slices at a time, five slices at a time; into fives into tens. And over poorly-rendered Christmas carols - What did the true love give on the 12th day? - and out-of-tune TV jingles, we each filled the bags with pieces of bread, with the stuff of stuffing, with pieces of our lives.

There was something very therapeutic about all of this tearing and joining and joining and tearing. In other halls and other rooms in the basement of this jail, some cleaned turkeys, others chopped onions, others emptied vats of green beans.

How humbling it was to play such a small part in a project that would, the next day, serve a multitude of 5,000 - threefold. Fifteen thousand men, women, and children all made possible by thousands of volunteers giving the greatest donation of all: Time.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED #28: Volunteer for Hosea Feed the Hungry.


Big Elly said...

You should see the ones they do at Turner Field...Barbers and hairstylists are there to give folks shaves and haircuts and showers, even job training. I am proud to call Hosea Williams my frat brother.

Lisa Allender said...

Good for you, man!
I have not yet worked at the Hosea Feed The Hungry, but reading about your experience tells me it's the real deal. God Bless You for your work, and your words.