June 11, 2014

Art for hunger’s sake

There was a time when my family was, for all useful purposes, destitute. During that time we ate a lot of tuna casserole and a lot of beans. We always had food, even if it was something we didn’t want. Our parents managed at least that much.

My mother became inventive with recipes. She bought a cheap cake mix and a package of lemon pudding. Knowing what I know now about cooking, the best course of action for her would have been to mix the pudding into the cake mix. It would have made a bland cake, moist and lemony. Instead, she made the cake and spread the pudding on top. While it was disgusting, it became one of those beacons of memory we still laugh about today. Amid struggle we often found great joy, even if it meant laughing at the very issue we were facing. We shook our fists at struggle.

That philosophy holds true today. Even in the midst of my struggles, I find moments of great joy, one of those being the opportunity to use what I know to do something good for someone else.

When my neighborhood association was invited to have a party with the Art on the Parish Green Festival this year, I felt lucky I was at the meeting and subsequently nominated to represent my neighborhood on the festival committee. It was another chance to use my background in event planning and to be a part of something that serves the community. I didn’t know at first what the mission was. I had attended the festival before and knew only that it was hosted on the grounds of a local church in New Albany.

When I showed up for a planning meeting a couple of weeks ago, I arrived just as the church’s soup kitchen was finishing the Friday meal. I saw a neighbor who helped in the kitchen, and we stopped to chat. As we were talking, a little girl walked out. She was not much older than my son, covered in dirt, wearing a diaper that had long been full. Her thick brown hair was strewn wildly about her head. She looked up at me with a soft innocent face, smiled, then walked back to her family.

It was at this meeting that I learned why the festival happened. The festival, now in its eighth year, benefits the “Shepherd’s Kitchen” soup kitchen of St. Paul Episcopal.

I often get preoccupied with self-pity, complaining about the things I don’t have and the money I don’t have, when, in reality, despite the minor financial issues of my family, I have the funds to do most of the things I really want to. I just don’t have as much as I’d like. A sweet smile from a poor child with a full belly puts my life in laser focus, and my complaints are made minute. But I’m not going to preach about poverty or complain about life.

I simply want to bring attention to this festival, happening June 14 and 15 on the grounds of St. Paul Episcopal Church (1015 E. Main St., New Albany, artontheparishgreen.org). The proceeds raised go directly to the soup kitchen.

Knowing that my participation helps feed those who really need it makes me feel good. It makes me grateful that I can do something to return to the world the favor that was granted my own family when we were living in poverty.

Since becoming a mother, the pain of children seems magnified, and often it is too much for me to handle. I cry for other people more now than I ever have. I want life to be fair, and sometimes it simply isn’t. It isn’t fair that this little girl knows hunger. It isn’t fair that anyone in a country as wealthy as ours should know hunger.

The little girl and our brief encounter moved me. The Art on the Parish Green Festival moves me because it helps her family.

Dear reader, I don’t have a bolt of wisdom this week, only a simple favor to ask: that you come. Bring your family, your friends and your extra dollars. There will be beer and wine, a raffle, food and great artists. Most of all, there will be the spirit of doing something for the love of our fellow humans in a way that isn’t condescending or boastful. You won’t be disappointed, and your soul will feel uplifted.