In the image: a day at the food bank

Today, December 22, it was my turn to volunteer at the local food bank.
It was a good and busy day. One of the aspects that I missed was the energy and bright eyes of children. On this day, the children of clients were left elsewhere. A committee had worked hard to gather toys and other child appropriate gifts, and parents were encouraged to choose from that selection to ensure that every child had gifts on Christmas day. The gift option was well received, well used.
It seems that in recent months there has been a new outpouring of generosity from businesses and individuals to give to causes such as this. Yes, the number of clients has gone up following Covid realities, but giving has been strong. During our hamper dispensing hours today, several brawny males (I tagged along as well) unloaded another vehicle packed full with donations from a local retailer. Hampers are given along with hot meals and drinks to everyone who comes through the door. Given the experience of the volunteer crew, things flowed smoothly, food stocks were replenished before tables were empty, there was continuous and gentle encouragement that followed each client as they made the circle to the various hamper items. It has always felt important to offer choices, that individual preferences be honoured.
In my spare time, of which as a mostly retired guy there is a significant amount, I continue to play way with metal, building whimsical pieces that are fun to create and occasionally useful, even meaningful.
For example, I build bookends, heavy chunks that will hold the most imposing volumes of Britannica (does anyone still use those?) without slumping or sliding away. On each bookend, part of a story is told. From our Mennonite history, a tale is passed down, perhaps five or six hundred years old, a tale has a man called Dirk Willms imprisoned because he has chosen to be part of these “Anabaptists,” (rebaptizers). While locked in a castle, he escapes, runs across a freezing moat. A jailor who pursues him falls through the ice. The tale has Willms making the choice to go back to save the fellow’s life, thereby being recaptured and eventually put to death.
A set of bookends depicts that story, Willms reaching out to the hand of the drowning man. It was strangely satisfying to build.
Another set tells a story of visiting the imprisoned. A person with coffee to share reaches toward another behind a barred door, indicates chairs where they might sit together. Again, it felt good to depict that activity, which has been a significant part of my adult life.
I would like to build bookends that tell the story of the food bank. Several images come to mind, possibilities that my scrap iron might bring to life. But something holds me back.
You see, any image that I might conjure up leaves me wincing a little. That is because the images feel a little too…colonial. Those images speak to me of an imbalance of power.
The Christmas story, the one in which we are currently immersed, tells the story of a holy and unexpected gift. Culturally, we have modelled our expression of that gift by our own generous gifting to others. The question buried behind my furrowed brow, how do we make gifting about both giving and receiving? It is certainly good and right that those who have larders well stocked will share with other who have not. But how do we picture the givers also receiving? How can my scraps of iron and welding express a generosity that flows in both directions?
Certainly, as I push a laden cart out to someone’s vehicle, as we move hamper items into trunks and back seats, there are conversations, there is trust given, there are stories told that have me in awe. Yet it is always me, and the organization that I represent, that holds that “power” side of the relationship.
I have few answers. But I’d really like to get at that next set of bookends. What story will be told?
In this season of love and giving, let’s wonder about lessons that might be received.