TODAY WAS MY FIRST ASSIGNMENT as a volunteer with “Die Tafeln“, a non-profit food bank, that bridges the gap between abundance and need. There are currently more than 930 “Tafeln” in Germany. All of them are nonprofit organizations. The Tafel, a non-governmental, civil society initiative, support more than 1.5 million people in need of food throughout the country – nearly one-third of them are children and youth. Germany has a higher poverty rate than the US and homelessness have risen 150 percent since 2014.
AS I ENTER THE ROOM, I see a black African crouching in a corner, kindness, and fear in his eyes as he greets me by gently lowering his head. A refugee from Sudan, as I learn later, just arrived in Germany. I forget him, start my activity until I hear his voice, loud and aggressive. He was denied access to this location, he had to go somewhere else, not this one. He speaks no German, other refugees from Syria translate the instructions of the officials for him into Arabic. In his face a mixture of desperation, incomprehension, aggressiveness, and anger. At some point I do not see him anymore, feel helpless, it’s my first assignment, I have no influence yet. The distribution of food is coming to an end. Then I see him again, as the last in the line of the waiting. I do not know how he managed to convince the officials, at least he is here now. His face is now peaceful, he is calm.
WE HARDLY HAVE ANYTHING TO DISTRIBUTE. All valuable food has already been handed out. There remain three unappealing apples and lots of bread. Baked goods are always in abundance, but have relatively few nutrients. Today, I am at the table of baked goods. Then he stands in front of me. On his food card is “11 people”. This is very much! On average, there are 3 to 5, maximum 7 people. Suddenly I understand the fear, the anger, the aggressiveness. And his insistence. He has to organize food for 11 people. He must not come back empty-handed. 10 people count on him!
NOW I WAS THE LAST OF US who could give him something and I had only baked goods, no better food. Baked goods abound. I presented him all the different sorts of bread in a row. He could choose, he decided, like an affluent customer in a shop. I felt blessed to give him everything he wanted. He got all the raisin buns and chocolate buns that I could find. For the children. His face now was that of a happy man who was richly gifted. I think it was less the bread but the chocolate buns for the kids. He left the location with bulging plastic bags and peace of mind. I do not know which of the two of us was happier. The one who took, or the one who could give.
Happiness and unhappiness, peace and rage, can be very close together, just a bread or a chocolate bun apart.
Addendum: Hunger, poverty are on a steep decline on a global scale. That is great, but there is still a lot to be done.