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Gleaning for Gratitude

Spending time helping others

"I am NOT wearing those jeggings!" shouted Claire on a recent school morning.

"But you picked them out last night." I tried to remind her of our plan in picking an outfit out ahead of time.

"I don't care! I HATE them now!"

"How about a skirt, a dress, maybe some jeans?" I hoped she would take the bait and just decide on something.

"NO!!!"

"Well, what are you going to wear? We have to get to school. You need to get dressed."

"I don't know. I don't like anything I have. I hardly have any clothes."

"No clothes? That's why we JUST went out and bought you a whole bag full at Old Navy." I reminded her.

"Well, I'm not getting dressed. I'll wear pajamas to school. Actually, I don't want to go to school. I'm not going!!!"

We've had a bit of a challenge with Claire lately. A couple of months ago, she dove headlong into a particularly rebellious stage wrought with tantrums, screaming fits and elementary angst. I feel like she's six going on seventeen with the prefrontal cortex of a two-year-old.

Odds are 7 to 3 in Vegas that we'll have an all out row on any given school morning and they shoot up to 9 to 1 on a Sunday morning when church is involved. The tantrums usually center around something that she "doesn't have" to wear.

After several failed attempts at timeouts, loss of privileges and other punitive measures, I resolved to change tactics and try to catch bees with honey. Zack had made when he and his dad started to rock climb every Friday night, just the two of them. I wanted to be able to connect with her one-on-one, outside of the pressures of our normal four kid routine. So I committed to having a "date" with her every Sunday afternoon.

The first Sunday we painted pottery at All Fired Up on Connecticut Avenue. It was refreshing to spend time with just her focused on an activity together away from the other three kids. She enjoys art, so the next Sunday we ventured out to the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. After a stroll through the galleries, we shared a hot chocolate at the Smithsonian Castle Cafe.

As we caught the bus home from the museum, we passed by several homeless people downtown sleeping on steam vents. She started asking questions about where they lived, what they ate and what happened to them when it got cold. We talked about homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries. Our conversation inspired me to rethink the focus of our next Sunday together.

When I got home I googled service opportunities in DC. I wanted us to volunteer where she could tangibly see the need and connect what she was doing with those who needed our help. I also wanted an opportunity where we could volunteer on a regular basis. I've found that unless we build something into our routine, it's very easy to make excuses not to do it.

I researched soup kitchens first and realized that you had to be at least 12 or 13 to prepare or serve food. I found a similar age restriction in other opportunities that provided direct client service. I became discouraged, so I reached out to a friend from our church who is involved in urban missions. He gave me a couple of leads to follow up and I committed to call them in the coming week.

Next Sunday, having not found a service opportunity yet for that day, I resigned to go back to All Fired Up and save volunteering for another day. We got up that morning and got ready for church.

As I was picking up my youngest son from his Sunday School class, I started chatting with one of the dads, who was a friend of ours. I asked him what his family was doing that day. He explained that he was taking his daughter, who was five, to Glean for the City, a project at Bread for City. The timing was perfect!  Explaining to him my idea for our service Sunday, I asked if we could join them.

I talked about it with my daughter. She was excited to go. That afternoon, as we drove along Rhode Island Ave toward 7th Street, she asked if the people we passed living on the street in some of the parks would come and get food from Bread For the City. I told her they might and that Bread For the City also provided food, clothing and medical services for other vulnerable residents of DC, not just the homeless.

When we got to Bread For the City, we saw about 30 plastic bins full of fresh vegetables and fruits that had come from an Alexandria farmer's market. Our friends were busy unloading the bins from the van that they had picked up from the market. Our job was to take the produce out of the bins and bag it, so that clients could come the next day and pick it up.

Working together to empty the bins, the girls became fast friends. They identified the fruits and vegetables and counted the right amount for each produce bag. It took us a couple of hours to finish the job and the girls helped to clean up afterwards.

I talked to the gleaning coordinator at Bread For the City. While in past years they would stop gleaning in November, this year they are planning to glean all year long. I told her that Claire and I would be back about once a month and that we were grateful for the opportunity that we had that day to glean for others.

As we drove back home, my daughter piped up from the back of the car, "You know Mom, we could glean some food from our house to give to Bread For the City. We have so much food."

I thought about it, happy that she had gleaned a little something else from our time together, and responded, "You know, Claire, you're right we do. We should open our cabinets next time we go."

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