An excerpted vignette story from the forthcoming book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists
A soup kitchen? The morning my mother called with news that a great-aunt had begun organizing free daily meals in a fragile part of town is as vivid to me today as it was nearly twenty years ago.
Expectations of service are handed down like heirlooms in my family, and Aunt Dora figured prominently in a long line of givers. Even so, I had never imagined such a bold move or demanding commitment from my grandmother’s reserved younger sister. Widowed and seventy-something at the time, Aunt Dora had selflessly looked after people her entire life as a mother, grandmother, foster mother, den mother and church pastor. I was at a loss as to why she was launching a community food program on the heels of her retirement from the church. Hadn’t she given enough? Wasn’t it time to pull back? To the contrary: It was precisely at this point she sought to commit herself anew.
I later learned it was in meditation during a silent spiritual retreat that Aunt Dora received the answer to her quest. “Feed the hungry” was her directive, and she founded Our Daily Bread Kitchen Inc. Since that day the kitchen has flourished and now serves free meals to over ten thousand people a year. Aunt Dora’s ongoing, obedient responses—constructing a larger, new facility and preparing meals, still, as she nears ninety—have removed any of my questions about the ceaseless bounty of service for fortunate heirs.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa
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