It had been quite a while since I had seen or heard from her family. In fact, I think I hadn’t seen them since the last one left Sparkman Middle about four years ago. I taught all three kids while I was there. My wife taught the two boys. Yesterday, for the first time, I met mom and dad. Someone brought them over and introduced me to them. As soon as she said the boys’ names, my mind went back to the very beginning.
It was 2015 and, by Alabama’s standards, it was extremely cold. That cold was the reason we couldn’t have school. Single degree temperatures and ice everywhere. Us not being able to have school that winter is the reason House of the Harvest even began in the first place. All those missed days and all those kids coming by the food pantry in Jennifer’s room on the way to the bus...it was unbelievably sad. We would be nearing the end of the day, Central Office would send out messages that there would be no school the next day, sometimes even the next two or three days. Sparkman Middle would make the announcement and then kids would just start coming by asking for food.
It’s hard to believe people don’t have food in the house. Especially when they are going to work and leaving children behind. But I have heard all the stories, seen some of them, listened to other people tell them. It’s still hard to imagine but it remains true. That two meal a day guarantee is the best thing Title 1 schools can do. At least for ten months out of the year they will eat good. A child should never have to worry about being able to eat.
During that cold winter of 2015, Jennifer made arrangements for some winter clothes and jackets for the kids. Food is more accessible than heating and air a lot of times, especially in low income housing. There are so many things I take for granted. I’ve seen that firsthand too. We’ve seen children with sores on their legs from rats gnawing on them, cockroaches in their backpacks, and on and on.
She was giving out those jackets at school when one of those two brothers approached her. Jennifer sized him up, picked up one of the jackets that she thought would fit, and handed it to him. He thanked her and started to walk away, still eyeing the box. He stopped and came back, “Can I trade this one for that one?” Very politely. But she was still taken back by the fact that he would ask to trade. It’s funny how we get to make choices about everything, but when we are giving something to someone we can be appalled by the fact that they want to choose. Like they don't deserve a choice. I’m guilty. That was a lesson I learned through House of the Harvest.
She didn’t ask him any questions, just let him swap the jacket out. He’s a child. Let him choose his jacket. As soon as he got his hands on it, he reached for the zipper on the removable liner. He unzipped the jacket, took out the liner, and gave it to his little brother. Then he put the outside part of the jacket on himself.
It was in that moment that we realized how special an opportunity it was for us to be able to be a part of what God was doing for those children at Sparkman Middle. That was a moment that I will never forget. That child had faced more challenging physical circumstances before middle school than I could ever imagine. But God was working in that too. God was using those circumstances to teach him. He was showing him how to be a leader, a protector, and a provider.
So as I stood there with his parents yesterday, the mother asked if I remembered the boys. I replied, “Of course I do. How could I forget those two?” I ask her what her older son is doing now. I listen, extremely interested. I love to hear what children we taught are doing now. She replies, “He’s in the army. Left as soon as he graduated. Wanted to serve the country.”
I smile. “I can see that. Makes perfect sense. Tell him Coach Walker said hello.”
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” Philippians 2:5-7