It was a cold, misty morning, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday. At least 200 people were lined up outside a church office’s door, awaiting a turkey. There was a sense of excitement–the people in line had not expected to be able to offer their families much of a Thanksgiving feast.
I was on the other side of the office door, surrounded by 100 waxed, cardboard boxes, each with a single, frozen turkey inside.
The week before Thanksgiving, a gracious and generous donor had called to tell me that he was giving away 200 turkeys, and that he wanted to give me a heads’ up “so that you can organize which families would receive them.”
I had made phone calls and home visits and had a list of 200 families that would be coming by to pick up their bird. The donor, whom I could not reach on the phone, had only sent me half of the promised donation. At this late date, on Wednesday afternoon, even if I had had the money, there was no grocery store around that that would have had the 100 turkeys I would need to complete the order.
So, I had to figure out the best way to disappoint half of the people that were outside the office door, poor people, and all of them with children who were most certainly looking forward to a Thanksgiving feast.
In the end, I did a raffle. The turkeys went away, and so did the people, some very happy and some very angry.
A very small woman, with fire in her eyes, came up to me afterwards. She said, “You really messed that up. It would have been better for all of us to be hungry, and sad, together. You just made half us of feel better than the rest, and the other half really jealous. So much for feeling thankful.”
I learned, later, that there was some sharing amongst the families that had, and those who did not, but there was not nearly enough to go around.
The hard lesson that I took away from that whole mess was not a new one–the sharing of resources is complicated. It is also a risky business.
All the same, I believe, it was not something that I would walk away from, this sharing out of resources. I don’t think that it is better for everyone to be hungry, together. It is much better for everyone to be fed, together.
The next time, I vowed, I would have the birds in hand before I started making promises that might not be kept.