A Lesson From a Client
by Sheri Hartzler
I have spent most Wed. nights of the past 20 years at Patchwork Pantry. I continue to do
this work because I am constantly reminded to be ever grateful for the things in my life I too
often take for granted. While I gain much from this reminder, I know that most Wednesday
evenings I think of myself as the “giver.” I was reminded one evening that I can learn and
receive from the pantry clients, as well as give to them.
A middle-aged woman we’ll call Kim, came to the pantry for food. It was a very busy night,
with the line of those waiting for food stretching far down the hallway. Kim came early,
finding a place within the first half dozen people in line.
We opened for business, and within 10 minutes, Kim was storming across the room to me,
demanding an explanation for the delay in getting to the interview table. An explanation
might be helpful here. We had been blessed with large quantities of garden produce this
summer, and two tables were groaning with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and even
bouquets of flowers. Clients were asked to wait until after their interview before getting their
produce. Kim’s concern was that all the “good stuff” was being taken while she waited.
I explained that Kim would be next - that we had a large supply of produce and there would
certainly be enough for her to have her choice of vegetables when she got to the table. I
even told her to get her vegetables before she was interviewed if she was concerned.
Nothing I said made any difference. She was angry, she sought out others who were in
charge of the work that evening and gave them the same complaint. Then after eventually
getting her interview and her vegetables, she complained again, that she only had rotten
vegetables to choose from.
Well, I was ready to tell her she didn’t have to get food at the pantry anymore if it wasn’t
satisfactory. Why couldn’t she be grateful for the free food? Here I was working hard to
make it available and all she could do was complain.
A month passed. Kim came back to the pantry arriving early. She came directly to the
kitchen, and with tears in her eyes asked for forgiveness. She said, “I worried about this all
month. I was wrong to be so upset last time I was here. I should not have complained. I
I told her I assumed she was having a bad day that day, and she said, “It wasn’t just a bad
day. It was a bad month!” “But,” she went on, “ I had no right to treat you that way.”
I assured Kim of forgiveness, and wondered if I would have had the courage to do what she
How quick am I to ask forgiveness? For those quick words that are said in frustration and
sometimes anger? How tempted am I to just assume that if enough time passes, it will be
I only see Kim once a month. She didn’t need to ask my forgiveness in order to continue to
get food. She asked because she knew she had done wrong and wanted to wipe the slate
clean. I will greet Kim the next time she comes to pantry in a new way -- as a person who
has asked for and received my forgiveness. I wonder what else she has to teach me?