by Caroline Griggs
As we walk down 128th street in Harlem, NY, houses flank both sides and men sitting behind fences smile at us and wave. About one block down from the bright yellow laundromat, a staple of the community, we see two red doors.
The two red doors, like the yellow laundromat, will become a familiar sight, a symbol of community, love, and connection. Behind these two red doors, we find warm, friendly, smiling faces of pastors, elders, church goers, and volunteers.
Every Friday evening, a group of people from Free Food Harlem come together to serve food to people without homes. Glendale Baptist Church generously donates a space to us each week. We are all from different backgrounds — Glendale welcomes us all! Reverend Ingram, raised an orphan, helps manage the free clothes section in the front of the Free Food restaurant inside the church. Eugene, a newer volunteer, finds himself drawn to the energy, loving nature, and attention to detail of our restaurant. He turned to me last week, looking up from his chair while tying twine around the napkin wrapped around the silverware and said, “I wish there had been a place like this for me when I was homeless.” No matter the task, he embodies joy and spirit as he washes dishes, mops floors, or sets the table.
We are an unlikely crew indeed, yet are bonded together around a common cause of bringing love to the community. Last weekend, we were fortunate enough to be invited to one of the church events. This was not an ordinary service, but a service which honored Pastor Beard, a centerpiece to the heart and soul of the church. She is the connection between the Free Food Harlem volunteers and the deep soul that lives and breathes inside the church.
This service event inspired me, lifted my heart and soul. I found myself tapping my feet and delighting in the radiance of friends. I felt welcomed into their world and joined more deeply on a new level. We had invited them into our world, and now they invited us into theirs.
The motto of Free Food is “liberate everything.” How beautiful it was that we found ourselves inside the heart of another community that does just that. They welcome and invite each person that visits Free Food generously into their church, embracing and serving them, hand in hand, with us.
The church has welcomed us, taken us in as members of their community, and invited their members to join us. Each person has found their path into Free Food, carving their own way to get their flavor of love in. Jennifer and her family run the cookie table, preparing them to be served or wrapping them for patrons to go. Together, they sit down and join others for a meal, taking in the opportunity for connection and community.
Church members have weaved their way inside of Free Food, and boy does it feel good! It’s the deep soul food you hear people talk about. The kind of love you can only find in people who deeply know, love, and embrace the good and bad, the light and dark. It’s a country-fried steak and mashed potatoes, hit you to the soul kind of love.
It’s fitting that those doors to the church are red. Red is the color of the heart and love, and that’s what is found behind those doors, heart and love. It’s an honor to be welcomed and embraced by this community. We welcome the entwining of our worlds and continuing to grow our vision of Free Food Harlem together.