“I’ve never tasted peanut butter.”
My Mexican-American friend Sigrid tells us this as we finish packing the last of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Gifts we’ve prepared for the migrants sent to wait in Mexico. I doubt that any of them have ever tasted peanut butter either.
It will be another new experience. A new taste, a new food. Food for these journeyers from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, and otros paίses. It will be their first experience of an American-made food. Manufactured by Hormel, in a place called Minnesota.
I imagine their faces when they bite into the soft white bread. Nothing will be familiar. Even the texture of el pan will mystify. But they will be hungry. That is, all the children older than 10, and their parents too. These are the ones Mexican immigration officials say they cannot afford to feed before releasing to the shelters or streets of Juarez. There’s only enough for the very young.
How did Sigrid know this? How did she find this new need that we could fill? Why did she even take the initiative to start this new ministry – the ministry of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich makers? And how did she ever secure enough provisions to make 1,000 sandwiches, or more, weekly? Oh, and don’t forget the snacks.
Well, but this is El Paso, after all. And, in typical El Paso fashion, El Pasoans respond to the need. You should know this by now, Pauline. It’s the reason you are here. The reason you uprooted yourself and created a new life in the desert. Something new that nourishes you. While you nourish the needy.
Always, you receive more than you anticipate. More than you give. I have come to know this in a way I never have before.
And something else.
I watch my fellow volunteers gathered around the tables. Take them in as they remove disposable gloves from sweaty hands, finish conversations, prepare to head home and scrub the smell of peanut butter out from underneath fingernails.
From 80-something-year-old Kay to 20-something-year-old Sy, these are the soul friends I’ve made along the journey. The ones who show me what is possible. A world where everyone has enough to eat. Where abundance is shared. And laughter, prevalent.
I recognize it, too, in the loyal “Usual Suspects.” The folks who made the beans and rolled them into tortillas to feed traveling migrants passing through our Loretto Nazareth shelter. Whenever our supply got low – I’d text Sue or Jeanette, prime “suspects” in this stalwart group with the “unusual” name.
Miraculously, more burritos would appear. Week after week. For years.
Now they’ve swapped bean burritos for PB&J sandwiches.
Still, they participate in a loaves and fishes story.
How do I give words to the beauty of this real-life parable? Of this fulfilling nourishment that’s been manufactured right here, in El Paso?
A quote from Frederick Buechner comes to me: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
For me, that place turned out to be accompanying migrants in El Paso shelters.
And is this where God is calling me now?
To Sigrid’s mother’s Mexican restaurant on the west side? To spoon grape jelly onto processed white bread? Slather peanut butter from end to end? To join dedicated friends to make sure migrant families whom we can no longer receive can at least receive a bit of protein before they find their way into the streets of Juarez?
No matter. It has simply come down to this. Hunger can be filled by a small act of kindness placed between two slices of bread.
May more of us acquire a taste for it.