Pomegranates in a Strange Land

A widespread practice in the charity food system is the preemptive filtering out of products that could potentially be offered to people in need, either for reasons of nutrition, or because we think that the people being served won’t want/need them. When instead we get out of the way and let food, even obscure or unhealthy food, find its way to the right hands, it often solves problems we never even imagined.

This story comes to us from the late John Arnold, who as the Executive Director of Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank oversaw the creation of the nation’s first large-scale mobile food pantry program.

One of our early mobile pantry distributions was at the Catholic Church in the neighborhood that I live in.  The parish consisted largely of German, Lithuanian and Polish widows, seemingly, and certainly they were the dominant population who came to the mobile pantry distribution to draw food.

One of the products we had put on the truck was several cases of pomegranates, and although the old ladies who were getting food at the distribution readily took the bread and milk and apples and other things, they weren’t having anything to do with these strange red mystery fruits.  The person supervising the distribution was well-known here in our neighborhood, and she did her best to encourage these ladies to take the pomegranates, but even claiming that it was something that Jesus himself had eaten didn’t succeed.

Then much to all of our surprise, a family of Ethiopian refugees came around the truck and saw the pomegranates.  As it turned out, apparently there is an Ethiopian holiday at which having pomegranates is the equivalent of people in this country having turkey at Thanksgiving, and that holiday was apparently fairly imminent.

When they realized that they could not only have a pomegranate, but they could take as many as they wanted – including extras to pass on to other refugee families that they were in contact with – the entire family burst into tears, with the distribution supervisor and I joining them.  It wasn’t a very big miracle, but it certainly felt pretty miraculous that we had something there that was uniquely able to bless that family.