Whenever I have the chance to meet up with a group of friends, there is always one question that never fails to get asked by someone during casual conversation about how I’m enjoying being a county commissioner. I really don’t know if the word “enjoying” is proper to describe an elected office or not, but many times I get the feeling most individuals think there is something acutely wrong with me when I usually answer that it is everything I thought it would be. It does require long meetings, missed meals, phone calls with interesting concerns, and expectations of magic wands that makes everyone live happily ever after without leaving payment in kind.
I must say, so far it has been exactly what I signed up for when I turned in my papers to qualify over a year ago and won. That is until Palm Sunday, when I got a text message from our local sheriff advising me of a problem in my district that needed my attention or at least come by to see what had happened over the weekend.
The text arrived while having lunch with my family after church, so after finishing our meal and telling them all good afternoon, I proceeded to the far corner of my rural district to the Journey of Hope outreach center operated by the Midland Baptist Church. Within this small community outreach program, more than 600 families a week benefit from volunteer’s efforts to provide needed food and clothing without a lot of questions asked. When traveling near the old school building that was turned into the Journey of Hope facilities, there usually is a traffic jam, as those in need fill the building looking for food for their families, while also receiving a smile and kind words from those who administer the program.
But, that Palm Sunday when I arrived, there were no lines of people looking for food and the parking lot had sheriff vehicles instead of bread trucks. As I walked through the old school building’s doors, I walked across crushed glass from broken front doors and the smell of pickle juice permeated the air, due to someone taking cases of dill pickles and smashing them throughout the building.
But there, among turned over shelves, destroyed food and broken commercial refrigeration units in a building that once held hope for many, but now looked like a war zone, were the volunteers assessing the damage of all their hard work. On Saturday evening, some very unconcerned and seemingly heartless individuals entered the building and spent their time breaking or destroying anything that came into their sights. I even saw eggs thrown at a picture of Jesus. What they apparently saw as fun was nothing but a direct attack on a program that was placed there to help and heal.
Thousands of dollars of damage was declared on Journey of Hope that night, but the following Monday more than 60 volunteers were on the scene rebuilding. In fact, their determination gives me the impression that this outreach will be even better and stronger. As I visited the following day, those who were involved driving nails and mending clothing said that they had already forgiven those who had trespassed against them. The smiles were back, and yes, by the end of the week there was food on the shelves, with many of the people’s needs being taken care of once again.
By Tuesday of that same week, three young men were arrested by detectives and charged for the crimes. The reason they gave for what they did really stunned me. These three men, within the ages of 19 to 21, said they destroyed the Journey of Hope food pantry because they were “bored.” For a very important reason, that was one word that was never allowed around our farm when we were growing up. If you even looked bored there was a set of limb clippers that would fit your hands to start cutting out fence rows or you had to move baled hay from one side of the barn to the other and then back again.
I still have plenty of fencerows that need working, so if a 20-year-old gets “bored” they are welcome to come help, rather than take food from the needy. Maybe they should also be fed pickle sandwiches for a while, since they enjoyed spreading their contents for others to clean up.
If anything, I was renewed to see the volunteers who jumped right back in and showed that their desire was to do the work that Journey of Hope was designed for. It is great to see that no matter what adversity is thrown at those who believe in what they are doing, it will not stop their desire to do good.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com