My friend Anne wrote a book called A Friend That I Can Do For, and I was lucky enough to be in Chicago on the day of her book signing. The event taught me a thing or two.
Anne interviewed people who gather on Tuesday nights at a food pantry sponsored by All Saints’ Episcopal church in Chicago. Some come to volunteer, some come for a hot meal, and all come for a bit more—community, friendship, a surprisingly unmasked being with each other. The book tells people’s stories in their own words and has no sections, so the story of the pastor is mixed in with that of the man who sleeps in the park and knows a cop who brings him sandwiches and hot soup around 1 a.m. Whether people initially come to the pantry to serve or to be fed, it becomes clear after only a few pages that giving and receiving happen in equal measure regardless of economic status. There is a real humility on both sides that helps break down that need we all have to categorize.
The book signing directly followed the first service on Sunday, and all the profits went to the food pantry. On the way to church, Anne had wondered how the book would be received and whether anyone would buy it. As her husband and I stood in the church hall watching the line form, we kept revising our estimates as to what percentage of the congregation was buying a book. Our final estimate was nearly 100 percent. Of the 100 copies Anne brought, she might have had fifteen left, and there was still another service that morning.
A Friend That I Can Do For will probably never hit the New York Times bestseller list, but its importance to this small community outweighs, for them, that of any John Grisham or Harry Potter novel. I have a tendency to think that the things I do don’t count because they’re not big enough, not grand enough. This small book sticks its tongue out at that attitude and says, “Get a grip! Look what I did. I fed people.”
As the inscription in the book says, may we all be fed.
Note: The book also features striking photographic portraits by Charlie Simokaitis and will be available soon on Amazon.