The Waif in the Grocery Store

waifI stood in front of the produce display, contemplating the relative merits of organic ‘still alive’ butter lettuce and prepackaged hearts of romaine when a quiet voice caught my attention.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, could you buy me and my friend some food?”

I turned to see who had voiced the strange request, and to whom the speaker had petitioned.

A skinny waif with short, spiky hair stood next to me. The store seemed empty except for another skinny boy who stood on the far side of the banana display, hidden under his black hoodie sweatshirt.

I stuttered. Not sure what to say. No one has ever asked me to buy food for them at a grocery store before.

“Um…you want me to buy you some food?” I replied. Brilliant answer.

“Yeah.” His hopeful brown eyes assured me that he hadn’t been joking. “We’re having some money problems and we don’t have any food in the house.”

“What can you cook?” I asked. And immediately second-guessed my response. It’s not like he was asking for money to go buy beer (my usual excuse for not giving handouts).

“I can make spaghetti, prepare macaroni and cheese, and grill steak,” he said.

“How about I buy you stuff to make spaghetti?” I asked. “You go get the bread, and I’ll find the spaghetti and sauce.” I pushed my cart towards the pasta aisle and wondered if he’d skip out. It takes a certain kind of bravery (or hunger) to approach a strange lady in a grocery store and ask her to buy you food.

I found pasta (the kind with whole grains and extra protein) and sauce and made my way back to the produce aisle so he could find me again. I found strawberries on sale and grabbed two containers. Kids need fruit. I figured he wouldn’t come back.

He did, and he brought a loaf of white bread with him.

“You can put it in the cart,” I said. “Do you like strawberries?” He nodded. My cart looked hopelessly empty and he looked really hungry. “Do you know how to fix potatoes?” I asked.

“I like to bake them and add butter and cheese,” he said.

I took off towards the dairy section, and he followed along. The other boy still lurked. “What kind of cheese do you like?” I said.
“Whatever you want to buy,” he assured me. “I really appreciate this.”

“Do you like burritos?” He nodded. My mind works in strange ways. You know, grated cheese, bean burritos…

I zipped back towards the produce section, where the tortillas hold court on the end of the aisle between Hispanic foods and towers of apples. “Have you ever tried these kind of tortillas?” I said, pointing to the whole-wheat variety we usually buy.

“No. But they look good and I’ll eat them.”

I grabbed two cans of refried beans and added them to the cart and headed towards the checkout line. “Wait. What about lettuce? Do you want some lettuce?” I asked.

“That would be good.” He backtracked and grabbed a head of iceberg. By this time I had no idea if I had gotten too much or too little. I couldn’t even remember what I had planned on buying for myself.

“What’s your name?” I finally asked.

“Jared.”

I didn’t ask more because we had reached the checkout line and I didn’t want to dent his dignity by asking all the questions that popped into my head. Questions like, Where are your parents? How many people are going hungry at home? You look like you’re in the 8th grade, am I right? Tell me more about your money problems. Should I be calling Child Protective Services?

We unloaded the groceries onto the conveyer belt and the cashier rang up Jared’s food. I tied the tops of his bags to keep them separate from mine.

“They charged you more than fifty cents for the mangoes,” he said.

I glanced at the cashier and then explained that the grocery store rings up the non-sale price and then at the end they add all the discounts.

“He’s learning to be a responsible shopper,” the cashier commented.

“That’s right.” I said as I finished paying and got ready to push our cart out. Before we reached the door, I stopped and handed him four bags of groceries. “Can you carry it all?” I wondered if black hoodie was his hungry friend.

“I can. Thank you so much,” he said again. “Do you want help carrying your groceries out?”

“No, I’m fine,” I said. “Have a good day.”

“You, too.”

I walked towards my car. When I finished loading my groceries, I saw black hoodie amble out of the store and turn left. Jared had disappeared in the opposite direction.

I drove home wiping my eyes and mentally kicking myself for all I didn’t say and all I didn’t buy. Now I’ll never know if black hoodie needed food, too.

The mangoes. He knew the sale price of mangoes.

I should have bought him mangoes.

Where have you met #Jesus lately? I met him in the produce aisle. http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1iY Click To Tweet

I’ve never lived so close to poverty, but one can’t avoid it when one lives in a one-grocery-store-town.  The signs and patrolmen out front keep the panhandlers at bay, but what does a kid do when school has closed for the summer and along with it the only hot meal some kids receive in a day. This isn’t the first time I’ve found a waif in town.  Last time, she was a toddler walking down the street behind the store. 

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Tears in my eyes. years ago, I put off a man in the Walmart parking lot, I think of him often and wonder if he was an angel in disguise. We get hardened by all the tricksters out there trying to get something for nothing, but we must learn that their actions are between them and God. We just need to do what Jesus would do and leave it there.
    Thanks for this reminder.
    GGMandy recently posted…Spring Is Just OkayMy Profile

  • What a beautiful story! You are so open to what God wants and to do it for His glory and He uses you. What amazing testimony and encouragement for me. Visiting from # 7 #tellhisstory
    Kristina recently posted…Remembering What Truly is ImportantMy Profile

  • Overwhelmed.
    So good that you were able to talk to him without demeaning him, but oh . . .
    Think of all the kids who aren’t bold enough to approach someone as he did.
    Michele Morin recently posted…Musings – May 2016My Profile

    • He wasn’t from the same demographics as my students, but I’ve heard stories from my students about how they have to steal in order to eat…or eat gravy, and only gravy for breakfast, lunch and dinner because it’s all they know how to make and they don’t WANT to steal.
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…What I Wish Christians Knew About Harm OCDMy Profile

  • Oh my, Anita, what a story. You blessed that young man that day and I know God will bless you for your actions too. Thanks for encouraging us to stop and listen and help.
    Holly Barrett recently posted…Testimony Tuesday: Family FunMy Profile

  • Anita- this got me. So many times I’m in such a rush that I’d have missed out on this opportunity. How many opportunities have I missed?
    Thank you for your words! I will take them with me today!
    Julie
    Julie recently posted…To the DoorstepMy Profile

  • Anita,
    What a compelling post — and such a strange occurrence in a grocery store! I applaud you for jumping in and providing food for him when the voices in your head might have told you to ignore him. Who knows what kind of impact you made on him, asking him about the food he liked and willingly giving to him!
    Valerie Sisco recently posted…A Word of ArtMy Profile

  • Wonderful story. I’m so glad you seized the opportunity to give a blessing. a blessing that nourished and comforted. A blessing of dignity too.
    I saw this recently. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjC01JfULEI

  • Oh man, this choked me up – tears are streaming down my face. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus for Jared. I just said a prayer for him.

  • Okay, wiping tears and lifting thanks that you were sensitive to the spirit and helped that boy out. Most would have tried to avoid even replying. I too live in a city where the homeless are always nearby, and I get an ache whenever I offer to buy someone lunch or coffee or bus fare… how to stem the tide of the needy? How to also feed their hearts… thank you for bringing all this to mind again, I need to be on the lookout for those in need more than I have.
    Christine Duncan recently posted…What I learned In MayMy Profile

  • This is the best! My tears flow as so many stories fill my mind. I’ve worked on the streets with homeless and those poverty stricken for years. The stories never get old and seeing God move is always a blessing. Thank you for noticing. I’m trying to have more Jesus eyes 24/7 these days — not just on the days that I serve the streets. Broken hurting people are everywhere. Thank you for touching my heart — so thankful I found you and stopped by.

  • I have God bumps all up and down my arms and tears streaming. BEAUTIFUL. The hands and feet of Jesus – Anita that’s who you were in the grocery store. What a blessing. What joy. How great is our Father’s love toward us. YES, LORD.
    Susan Shipe recently posted…what i learned in may (2016)My Profile

  • Reading through tears … I love so much that you didn’t think twice about helping. Hebrews 13:2
    Melissa recently posted…May ReadsMy Profile

  • Tara

    I’m with Melissa…tears here too. You lived out what it means to feed our neighbors etc. I’m thankful I have a great job. I get frustrated the first half of the month when I pay my rent and there isn’t a ton of money left. Luckily I know their is more coming in a few weeks. But there are so many out there who don’t have anything. You, my friend, are a blessing! I hope I’m able to help someone out some day too!

  • It breaks my heart when I think of all the kids that go hungry. Way to help and give hope!
    Sarah Donegan recently posted…Pulling Me UnderMy Profile

  • I believe in divine appointments, and this is such a beautiful example even if you didn’t live out the appointment as completely as you wished! No doubt this young mad saw Jesus in you, and you will never know the full extent of how you blessed through being kind and intentional. I’d love for you to share at #FreshMarketFriday where we select a Featured Fresh Find every week!