A Christmas Dinner, by Kat Pestian

January 6, 2014

Kat Pestian, communications coordinator at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, recently shared this piece she wrote. Although the holidays have passed and the timing is a bit off, I thought it too good not to share. Please read Kat's incredible insight below.

Christmas is just days away and my list is complete, but I'm not feeling any relief from the holiday stress. In the past year, I lost two cherished grandparents, so rather than the tradition of traveling to their house, I will host Christmas dinner in my own home for the first time—preparing a meal that will somehow blend the Italian traditions of my husband's family with my own family's deeply rooted Southern traditions. When I agreed to host Christmas dinner, I started planning immediately, setting my table to perfection with the proper glassware, perfect plate chargers, and porcelain napkin holders shaped like tiny stockings, not to mention the complex side dishes and a pre-ordered 30-pound turkey.

Turning off the lights in my dining room, I glanced out the bay window to the snow falling on my brick street. I saw an older gentleman bundled from head to toe walking silently and alone. I took his same relaxed pace back into my kitchen, thinking about the love that would fill my house in a few days, only to be reminded by this man that not everyone would feel the warmth my family would feel on Christmas Day. I felt a strange combination of both guilt and thankfulness, and thought about what I've learned in the past year in my new job at the Foodbank.

I am on the marketing team for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, and it's an honor to be in this job, which often requires that I visit our partner hunger-relief agencies, like soup kitchens, hot meals sites, and pantries, and meet with people struggling with hunger. I get to write their stories, and be a voice for those who would otherwise remain silenced.

Last year, my first visit to a hunger-relief center came near the beginning of the holiday season just after a light snowfall. I pulled into the pantry and saw dedicated volunteers unloading fresh produce. I felt so proud—proud of my organization and my new Foodbank family.

Then I saw the line. I saw that line of people that we all try not to see. It wrapped around the food pantry building. It was made up of women bundled up with small children, elderly men and women, and—what seemed worse to me—people standing silently alone waiting to obtain food.

At the pantry, I met a volunteer who was gentle and kind to those she helped, carefully packing fresh potatoes, apples, breads and turkeys for the people in line. When families came through her line to receive food and saw the turkeys she was handing out, some of them placed their hands over their mouths and began to cry. Others hugged their children with overwhelming joy. One mom asked shyly, "Is that turkey really for me? You mean I don't have to make hot dogs on Christmas?" When the distribution ended, that tender volunteer packed one more bag. This time for herself. "My husband lost his job," she explained timidly. "But we'll be back on our feet soon. I just know it."

Back in my kitchen, I wiped a tear from my eye, deliberately pulling the sleeve of my sweater over my hand as if it offered some sort of protection. Looking up I noticed the beautiful table I'd been working all afternoon to prepare. At this moment, it couldn't have mattered less. I believe we all have instances of revelation in our lives, those Ebenezer Scrooge moments when we realize that the world is bigger than ourselves. I knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, that there was no difference between me and the people in that line.

Yes, we are similar in that we all have hopes, dreams, worries and fears, but the connection I felt was deeper than that. There was absolutely no difference between us. If they are hungry, then truly we are all hungry. In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim didn't exclaim, "God bless us." He said, "God bless us, every one."

In Northeast Ohio, more than 1 in 7 people are struggling with hunger, including nearly 1 in 4 children. To learn more, visit AkronCantonFoodbank.org or ClevelandFoodbank.org.


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