The 50 count paper bags formed neat rows of ten. Hope’s six-year old fingers adjusted them until they lined up perfectly.
“Momma, I’m ready!”
Nellie Walker wobbled over to worn dining room table, ignoring her aching joints, carrying the contents that would be included in each bag. Peanut Butter crackers, one bottle of water, two granola bars, a bag of pretzels, a small book of prayers and a hand written note by Hope that said:
You are Loved and I believe in you. Please join us at St. Jude’s Church on the corner of 5th St. and 27th Ave. - Love Hope & Nellie
“Now don’t forget the most important part.” Nellie said in an excited whisper as she held out her hand for Hope.
Once she felt the miniature hand grasp her rough, weathered hand Nellie prayed, “Jesus bless these bags and the souls that will receive them. Keep them safe and healthy. May their journey lead them home to you. In Jesus name we pray.”
“AYE-MEN,” Hope sung out as she nodded her head in tune to her response.
The bags were kept in the backseat of Nellie’s car and distributed to any stranger who asked for help. When the bags were distributed the whole process was repeated so that no one who ever asked for a handout was denied. For Nellie, these blessed bags were a way to distribute love to those who most needed it.
It was 7:45pm on a Thursday evening when Nellie's unreliable car decided it wasn’t going to make it home that night. Nellie and Hope were only half a mile from home, and the long summer days gave them plenty of daylight to walk home in.
“Grab a couple of those bags in the backseat,” said Nellie. “We may need something to nibble on as we walk home.”
The neighborhood was unfamiliar and even though they lived so close to the poverty level themselves, this area seemed rougher and unkept. The rickety shanty houses hidden back in the shadows looked dejected. Rusted bicycles and cars with no tires, elevated on bricks, sat in driveways or on front lawns. Some residents were outside on their porches, sitting side by side staring out at the road, but not saying a word to each other. It seemed a sad place to be.
Hope kept a loose hold of her mother’s hand as they walked along. They both wore the only shoes either of them owned and tattered outfits that didn’t look a bit out of place. Nellie knew the roads, having grown up close by, but Hope allowed her blind trust in Nellie lead her home. She was enjoying the evening air.
As they arrived at the corner they saw a girl, not older than sixteen, sitting on the steps in front of her home with the same look Nellie wore after her childhood dinners that left her unfulfilled and angry with just about everything she laid her eyes on.
“Evening.” Nellie said as she passed.
The girl responded with a look of scorn.
“I want you to have these. We don’t need them so maybe you can find use for them.”
The girl peered inside the bag and shot back an offended look. “Why you giving me these? Ain’t you hungry? You don’t look like you got much. Maybe you should keep it for yourself.”
Nellie wasn’t going to let this girl’s pride get in the way. “This ain’t no handout.” she explained with authority. “Let me be clear on that. The Lord’s done take care of our needs good and plenty and I got some extra. That’s all. I’m just trying to be friendly and offer you the same. I reckon the Lord would be upset with me if I didn’t try to share my excess.”
The girl tested Nellie with a good long stare and then taking the bags said,” I wouldn’t want your God to be upset with you.” She slapped a mosquito on her neck and then headed up to her front door.
Nellie looked down at Hope who was gazing up at the sky searching for the first stars to appear while waiting patiently for her Momma to finish talking to their new friend. She only needed to give Hope’s hand a gentle squeeze to signal that it was time to keep walking home.
“Maybe she will come meet us at church next Sunday.” Hope said with childish optimism as they continued on.
“Maybe she will.”
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