Whenever I meet up with a group of friends, someone will ask about how I’m enjoying being a county commissioner. I don’t know if the word “enjoying” is proper to describe an elected office, but many times, I get the feeling most individuals think there’s something acutely wrong with me when I answer that it’s everything I thought it would be. It requires long meetings, missed meals, phone calls about interesting concerns, and expectations of magic wands that make everyone live happily ever after without leaving payment in kind.
So far, it’s 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.
The text arrived while I was 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, where Midland Baptist Church operated the Journey of Hope outreach center. Through this small community program, more than 600 families a week benefit from volunteer 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’s usually 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, 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.
There, among overturned shelves, destroyed food, and broken commercial refrigeration units in a building that once held hope for many, but now looked like a war zone, volunteers were assessing the damage done to their hard work. On Saturday evening, some very unconcerned and seemingly heartless individuals entered the building and broke or destroyed 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 an 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 driving nails and mending clothing said they’d already forgiven those who’d trespassed against them. The smiles were back, and by the end of the week, there was food on the shelves, with the needs of many people being taken care of once again.
By Tuesday of that same week, detectives arrested three young men and charged with committing the crimes. The reason they gave for what they did 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 as you started 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 fence rows that need working, so if a 20-year-old gets “bored,” they’re welcome to help me rather than take food from the needy. Maybe they should also be fed pickle sandwiches for a while, since they enjoy spreading their contents for others to clean up.
If anything, I was renewed to see the volunteers jump right back in and show that their desire was to do the work for which Journey of Hope was designed. It was great to see that no matter what adversity is thrown at those who believe in what they’re doing, nothing will 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.