Michelle Stamper is the volunteer director of a FASWVA Mobile Food Pantry site in Grayson County.
It was winter when I first met David, so we were holding the Mobile Food Pantry distribution inside the gym. I was up front calling out numbers and taking cards as clients started through the line. “NUMBER 52,” I called, “FIFTY TWO!”
A man detached himself from the crowd. He was being inappropriate, loudly complaining about the wait time. He refused to make eye contact and tried to push past me, but I managed to stop him and ask for his number. It was in the 190s. I politely told him that he must have misunderstood the number I’d called and asked him to sit down.
His countenance darkened. He stepped forward within inches of my face and began to argue aggressively, alcohol on his breath. I honestly thought he might hit me, but eventually he walked away. For months afterward, I had police present at the distributions to keep an eye on David. There were no further incidents.
Our site tries to bring in partners and programs that further help clients improve their lives. The spring after I met David, we brought in a financial planning class. David was among the applicants. I almost cancelled the class because I didn’t want him in it. I was debating what to do when, to my surprise, I got a phone call from him. I will never forget what he said. He said he knew he had problems, but he wanted to be different, to be better somehow. He said that he really didn’t know where to start, but that any knowledge he gained would only help. He sounded sincere and I moved forward with the class.
David turned out to be an exemplary student. He showed up on time, always sober. He was friendly and worked hard on the classwork. From our first interaction, I had judged him as an alcoholic, but it became clear that alcohol was the symptom, not the disease. David had an underlying mental health issue he was fighting to control. With this understanding, I felt more inclined to help. By the last week of class, I no longer feared David. I genuinely counted him as a friend.
Our pantry has countless success stories about good people whose lives have benefited from the food or programs we have provided. But somehow, when I think about program success, I simply think of David and the chance he had to be a little more sober, a little more normal, a little more knowledgeable. It was a small thing to me, but I will always believe that for him, it was tremendous.
Since David, I look at each of my clients a little bit differently, with more kindness, more understanding. You see, it’s easy to help the honest, hardworking single mother fighting breast cancer and foreclosure. It’s easy to help the single father raising four adopted children after the tragic loss of his wife. It isn’t always easy to help the Davids of the world, who are not so easy to love, not so simply gratifying to assist. When I think of the difference we have made in these lives and the changes they have wrought in our hearts, I arrive at what I consider my site’s greatest triumph: we showed love when it was difficult and were shown love in return.