Up here in northern Michigan, it snows—a lot.
Even though I own a car-repair shop, during winter most of my business comes from plowing. In December 2007 a big—no, make that huge—storm hit.
I headed out in my truck at nightfall and 12 hours later, I was still plowing, my only companion the dj on my favorite radio station.
“Hope everyone’s being careful out there on those roads today,” the dj’s voice blared. “We just got word that the Father Fred food pantry in Traverse City is in desperate need of donations. You can take any nonperishable food items to…”
Father Fred’s is in the “big city” about an hour away. If Father Fred’s was running low, I could only imagine how our own local food pantries were faring.
My community is a group of four small towns with no real industry. Most people here are retired and struggling to make ends meet.
The snow kept coming and I kept plowing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those food pantries, about families, neighbors even, not having enough to put on their tables at Christmas. What can I do to help? I wondered.
“Hey there, Dave,” one of my clients called, pulling into the driveway I’d just plowed for her. “Drive looks great.” She set her groceries down and rifled through her purse for my payment.
“Do you mind if I mail you a check? I don’t have the cash on me.”
“Sure,” I started to answer, but her grocery bags gave me an idea. “Tell you what,” I said. “The radio said food pantries are down on donations. Why don’t you just give me a few canned items I can take over to the pantry?”
“Sounds like a bargain to me,” she said. She went back into the house and brought out a whole bagful. I loaded the bag in the cab of my truck, and went on in the swirling snow.
I made the same offer to my next client and the next. Plowing is three-fourths of my winter income, but my wife and I would find a way to do without it. It was those hungry families I worried about.
By the next afternoon, there was so much food in my truck I could barely squeeze in. Feeling pretty good, I went to drop off the groceries at my church’s food pantry.
Just a dozen cans of vegetables, a box or two of rice and some pasta sat on the shelves. There wasn’t enough to keep a family of four fed for one week.
I handed my bags over to the volunteers, my heart sinking. What had seemed like a big contribution just a minute ago in reality barely made a difference. I’m just one guy, I thought. I want to help, Lord, but I can’t fill these empty shelves by myself.
I got back into my truck and headed to my next customer. On the way, I saw Doug, a fellow snowplow driver out on the job. “Hey, buddy,” Doug called to me, rolling down his truck window.
“How’s it going?”
“Actually, I feel kind of bad,” I replied. “The radio said the food pantries are hurting. I stopped by the one at my church and they had nothing.”
“Sure is tough times around here,” Doug agreed.
“I’m giving clients a discount if they donate food. But I don’t know if it’ll be enough.” I paused. Doug is a good guy with a big heart but not a huge wallet. Ask and ye shall receive, right? I thought. “You wouldn’t be interested in helping out, would you?” I asked.
“You mean, plow for nothing?” he said, eyebrow cocked.
“Not for nothing, just a little less than usual. Besides, we all have accounts we do for free. It’s kind of like that. Just something to help,” I said, my voice and my resolve faltering. Who was I to ask my friend to give up his hard-earned income? “Never mind,” I said, and started rolling up the window.
But Doug didn’t drive on. He looked at me and sighed. Then he said, “Sounds crazy, but what the heck. I can probably bring in more than you anyway.”
The next two weeks, just about every snowplow driver in the area got in on our competition, giving discounts to their clients in exchange for food donations.
Right before Christmas I went back to my church’s pantry. The shelves were crammed with cans, boxes, toiletries, even diapers. I caught the eye of one man who was there with his family.
I knew they were hard up that winter, and I figured they were there picking up some groceries. But then I saw him handing over 10 cans of soup to a volunteer. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was giving.
I thought I couldn’t make a difference by myself, and I didn’t. But the Lord showed me that together, as a community, we could. And we did.
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