The Gift

March 28, 2012

By Kat Teraji
Instant Connection Contributor

On a recent Monday night, our Gilroy United Methodist Church volunteer team was serving soup to the homeless at the National Guard Armory temporary winter shelter, when a redheaded woman in her 60s caught my attention. She said her name was simply "Jenann." Dressed in a rose-colored sweater and olive green knit pants with a neat crease down the front of each leg, she looked like she could be anybody's grandma. She placed her meager belongings on a flat mat, in the spot she had staked out for the night on the women's side of the large room. She went into the restroom to take a shower before dinner.   
When she came back out, most of the 80 or so homeless people seeking shelter had already been served, and unfortunately, we had run out of soup. I ran out to my car to bring in my emergency stash of cans. Two of our volunteers, Nancy Headley and Tina Bartunek, swung into action, opening the cans and pouring them into the oversized pots that Pastor Eric Cho had just washed. We began reusing the pots to heat a second batch. It wouldn't be homemade, but at least no one would go away hungry. Teenagers Justin Cho and Andrew Bartunek of our youth group began serving the soup to those who hadn't had any dinner. 
After her shower, the soft-spoken Jenann went to the back of the line and patiently waited, even though everyone ahead of her had already been served. I recognized that most of those from the early crowd had already gone through once and were back for seconds. Our team insisted that Jenann come up to the front of the line to be served.
"Oh, I couldn't do that," she protested. "I wouldn't want to seem rude." I went to the back of the line and gently led her up to the front, where we gave her a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup, which she shyly agreed to accept. A grateful smile beamed across her face as she looked up, with unshed tears shining in her eyes.
Awhile later, after she had eaten, she came up to me and, in what was almost a whisper, said, "I have something for you." I tried to imagine what a homeless person could possibly have to give…?  
She took me aside and said how grateful she was for our church's kindness towards her in this time of need in her life. Then she looked down at her hand, which was closed tightly in a fist. 
"I just want to say thank you," she said, as she opened her hand and unobtrusively slipped a small object into my palm. A lump came to my throat as I looked down and realized that she had given the only thing she had left to give: a tiny Hershey's chocolate bar wrapped in gold foil.  
Jenann and I just smiled at each other and hugged. Suddenly every barrier between us melted away. It did not matter that we were from different worlds. That night with Jenann, I felt a common bond, a moment when the love of a Higher Power spilled out beyond our expectations and overwhelmed us, and it only happened because our church was willing to be there serving.
I realized in that moment how much volunteering among the homeless had changed me. Thanks to our Pastor Eric who was new to our church last year, I began going to the shelter to be helpful as he was learning the ropes. But what ended up happening was that as he demonstrated by his actions that he found it very worthwhile to serve, I was inspired to go and serve more often with our teams. When I first began serving, while I had been willing to fill bowls of soup to place on the counter where each person could take one, I had been uncomfortable actually to mingle among homeless people. That began to change as I served each week with our teams and interacted more with the men, women, and children seeking shelter.  
Now Jenann and I were moved beyond what words could say! We looked at each other, smiled, and hugged again.  
I carefully brought the tiny, foil-wrapped candy home and placed it in the ring box where I have kept my mother's gold wedding band since she passed away. She was the kind of person who liked to say that it could be you or I who might need a helping hand someday. She said that when we serve others in the name of Jesus, we are the ones who are rewarded more in return.
Thanks to Eric, our volunteers, and an angel named Jenann, I understand now what she meant.