How Can I Help You?

05/27/2018 .
Maria Martinez  .  Guest Storyteller

Tuesdays are always busy at Saddleback Irvine South’s Food Pantry, with many people from the community arriving and waiting in the hallway to get registered and pick up food for their families. One Tuesday, I was volunteering in the church office, but the Food Pantry was in need of more volunteers—so everyone helping in the office was redirected. In the past, I have helped people with shopping in our pantry area. I always enjoyed talking to them while they shopped, and praying with them afterward. But on this particular Tuesday, I was having back pain and did not feel very cheerful, so I stayed behind in the office.

The day before, I had promised one of our pastors that I would get the books, binders, and baptism material in the Volunteer Central put away in our storage room where they belonged. Taking a wire cart, I hauled several boxes of books and other class materials, unboxed them, and put them on the shelves in the storage room.

On the second trip down the long hallway, I had to pass by the Food Pantry again. I could see that a lot of people were waiting in the hallway for their turn to shop. I felt God speaking to me, “People over process.” I thought, “Maybe I could finish this task another time. Maybe I should help at the Food Pantry even though I am not physically up to it today. Maybe.”

When I reached the Food Pantry area, I noticed a woman standing off to the side by herself. She had her face up against the wall, like she was trying to hide. As I got closer to her, I could tell she was crying. I let go of the cart and went up to her. “How can I help you?” I asked quietly. “Do you need help?”

She turned around, and we were face to face. I could see tears on her cheeks and sorrow on her face. I wanted to just take her in my arms, but I didn’t even know her name.

“You came to the right place for help. How can I help you?” I asked.

“I need a hug,” she responded softly.

I put both my arms around her. I kept holding her against my chest with her head on my shoulder. She continued crying softly on my shoulder. I rocked her back and forth and gently patted her back, like a mother would to soothe a crying child. I did not say anything. I just kept holding her tight, her tears wetting the entire shoulder area of my T-shirt. My heart ached for her. I did not know her name or what she was crying about. But I sensed the pain and distress that was overwhelming her. I wanted to comfort her somehow, but all I could do was hold her. Tears started streaming down my cheeks also.

When her crying eased a bit, I released my hold on her, and we both wiped away our tears. She then started to tell me about how she was struggling emotionally since her husband of many years walked out on her and her 5- and 10-year-old sons. She did not have a job and didn’t think she would have enough money to pay the rent and get food to make it through the month.

Just then, a volunteer came out to the hallway where we were standing and called the woman’s name. It was her turn to shop for food.

After she finished picking up her food, I was able to talk with her. This was her first visit to our Food Pantry. I encouraged her to make an appointment with a resource coach and to come to the women’s group on Friday morning. I also encouraged her to bring her sons to church on Sunday. She was surprised when she realized that our Food Pantry was part of our church building.

As I walked back to the office area, I thought, “What if I had gone with the office staff earlier to help?” I don’t think I would have encountered this woman in the hallway the way I did. God was directing my steps. I was in the right place, even when I didn’t think I could be of help. In these special moments, I am so thankful that Saddleback is a place where hurting people can come and receive help, and I can get to be the arms of Jesus to serve them when they’re here.

Learn more about Saddleback's Food Pantry and get involved HERE.