“Sometimes people are layered like that. There’s something totally different underneath than what’s on the surface….Like pie is.” Joss Whedon
Pie continues to pop up in my life in unexpected ways. This latest endeavor was no exception – it was a completely unplanned undertaking but was by far my most rewarding.
For years, I have been interested in volunteering with a local organization that helps homeless families who are in emergency situations by placing them in temporary housing hosted by a network of local churches and synagogues. Each time I read about it I plan to call and sign up to help. But for years, I put off calling. Because I forgot. Because my own life distracted me. Because my kid decided to stop sleeping and I was tired. Because, to be honest, I was nervous.
I finally decided enough was enough. Poor me with my job, my house, my supportive husband and my kids who were fed and put to bed. Time to drop my selfish excuses and help already. The church we belong to was housing families and we signed up to be evening hosts. Our job was to come after dinner and help by playing with the kids, assisting with homework, and really just offer support and compassion by talking and listening.
We walked into the church that first night and my heart was racing with anticipation and nervousness. In the blink of an eye I had a baby in my arms and was chatting up a storm with M, one of the women. She was young and had come with her husband and four children ranging from five to two months old (enter the baby I scooped up in a hot minute). My mind was searching for things to talk about that wouldn’t highlight our obvious differences. And out it came – “Do you like pie?” We got to talking about sweet potato pie, holidays and memories of pie. M had never made a pie of her own, so naturally I decided to organize a major pie making endeavor for our next scheduled night to host.
When the day came, I packed up my supplies and headed for the church to make cherry pie and sweet potato pie. Three women staying at the church joined me along with another volunteer.
Together, we rolled dough, crimped edges and made our filling. For two of the women, these were the first pies they had ever made.
When our pies were done, we sat around the table and shared the results of our hard work. While plates, forks, and cans of whipped cream circled the table, we began to talk. The divide between homeless and homeowner faded away as each bite of pie took us towards common ground. We were mothers. We were women. We loved pie and we loved the pie we had just made together. And in the comfort of our meal, stories began to emerge. Stories of harrowing days spent in the foster care system, discontinued child support payments, murdered parents, absent fathers – lives tangled with so many forks in the road that it’s virtually impossible to trace your steps back to see where it all went wrong. And yet there was hope in a new beginning. A chance to find permanent housing though the support of this program and reassurance in the compassion and understanding of new friends.
I left that night with two conversations looping through my head. One track was of G, a 7th grade boy who assured me that his mom was working on getting a house in our neighborhood and that he was sure he’d be joining our church soon. The other track was of his mother, T, asking me to pray that her Cleveland housing program application would be accepted…or else they would have to start over and move to another shelter next week.
To the strong mothers and the innocently hopeful children, I wish I could give you more than just pie.
If you live in Northeast Ohio, be sure to check out Family Promise.
*All photos were used with the permission of the families.