A little over two months ago our bakery was visited by a woman looking for bread donations for an organization named, Grace’s Table. Our bakery is always looking for new donation partners because we usually have the opportunity to donate on a daily basis. We were glad to give her what she needed every Friday. For a while that was the depth of our relationship. She needed bread, we had bread, perfect. Until we decided to write this post and I started doing research. Grace’s Table would turn out to mean a lot more to me than I ever anticipated.
Becoming a parent is traditionally seen as one of the happiest days in a woman’s life, only second to finding her soulmate and getting married. For most people I know that’s how the story plays out. But what happens when it doesn’t? Young motherhood is surrounded with a stigma that often makes an already difficult position much worse. People look at you like your irresponsible, uneducated, or worse. So, when the world looks at you like your issue is your fault and you should deal with it alone what are you to do?
I use to have nightmares about getting pregnant in high school and my mother laughed and said I wouldn’t have to worry. I was the last person any of my friends or family would have expected to get pregnant before I was ready. I was 22, engaged, and about to start my senior year of college when I found out I was expecting. I waited two weeks to tell my mother. That type of lack of communication is unheard of in my family. But I was more terrified to tell my grandmother. “You just made your life real tough kid,” were the first words she said to me. Being a teen mother in the 1950’s, she knew all too well what my future had instore. I was crushed but I knew she was right.
During my pregnancy I went to school full time, worked 8 hours as an intern, and worked full time as a server/manager at a local restaurant. My fiancé worked nights and I often didn’t see him. I spent many nights alone and wondering how in the world I was going to raise this baby. I was too scared to admit I needed help and frustrated with myself for letting this happen. My mother helped me cut myself some slack, forgave my mistakes, and gave me a safe place to unload my fear. She and the rest of my family helped me graduate on time. My sister would babysit when I needed a break or had homework. My grandmother was there offering to help make baby clothes and provided hours of much needed wisdom. My friends from work covered my shifts when the morning sickness became too much to bare. It was a miracle but I graduated on time. I ended that semester diploma in one hand, Lilly in the other. Lilly’s dad and I ended up not staying together but because of my family I was able to make it through. I’m a lucky one.
For young women in Grand Rapids, there is Grace’s Table. Lisa Anderson, the director and founder of Grace’s Table, was a teenage mother herself. After her personal struggle to find mentors and support while raising her son, she started to mentor other young mothers. With 800 new mothers age 15-19 in Kent County alone every year the need is certainly present in our area. Fifty-one percent of these girls never graduate from high school and 31% of them have subsequent pregnancies within 2 years. A lot of these girls have probably experienced even more struggles than I did. These are the girls Grace’s Table was built for.
Lisa and her network of volunteers have been providing a safe place for young mom’s to find support and encouragement for an entire year. Every Friday their community gathers together to share a meal, network, and mentor one another. Most importantly, it’s a place for the young women to get some love and emotional support from fellow moms.
The focal point of their gatherings are their community meals that feed anywhere from 12-20 families and volunteers. They also provide each family formula, diapers, and bus passes to get home after the meetings. The food is produced by volunteers through local donations. Often times, they stay and serve the meal as well. I was lucky enough to join Lisa and the girls for their Thanksgiving Dinner. When I arrived, I walked into a warm home packed with smiling faces and the rambunctious sounds of happy children. It was overwhelming, I’m such a wallflower at parties. I stood for a second in the doorway but was quickly welcomed by a very friendly mentor who led me into the party. I stood in awe as everyone did their part to get dinner set and served. As a foodservice professional, I was impressed at just how quickly everyone was seated and fed. In the center of the room sat a huge dining room table filled to bursting with kids, moms, and mentors. The girls chased their kids, cuddled other’s kids, and cleaned up dirty faces together. No one was telling the toddlers to be quiet or sit still. There was no pressure to behave a certain way. Just a mutual understanding that kids will be kids and we’re here to help each other.
After dinner the little ones were taken to play and the girls sat down together while one of the mentors read a letter she wrote to them about being thankful. She talked about lighting a candle to remind herself of the community she had supporting her and how she was never truly alone. Each of the girls was given a candle to remind them to be strong and remember they are never alone in their journey. Next they exchanged a few cards on which each girl wrote some kind words of encouragement for other participants. Things like, “you’re a great mommy,” and “you’re a good person”. Kind words to keep them going.
I was introduced afterward, along with another new volunteer. When the girls heard I was from Field&Fire their faces lit up. “That’s the place where we get the really good bread” Lisa explained to them. That continued the list of moments that just warmed my heart. At the end of the night I was the one feeling truly thankful. Thankful for my job, the opportunity to attend such an event, and the fact that a place like Grace’s Table exists for these young women.
I was proud to be a part of an organization supporting such a wonderful cause. It’s this seemingly small act that we do every week that made such a difference to their meals. That’s what community is, helping your fellow human because it’s the right thing to do. I’m not saying if you’re not actively participating you’re not a good person. But maybe instead of keeping our blinders on and letting insensitivity run our lives we can open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds and give treating each other like human beings a chance. When it comes to people, like books, bread, and magic you can never know by just a glance.
We are currently seeking a bread donation for a Saturday morning pick-up. If you’re interested, please give us a call. 616-551-3491