If you were to drive by the Stewpot before 8 o’clock any weekday morning, there’s always a crowd. I’m often asked about all the women and children. What’s that all about?
I answer this frequently asked question by saying look at the Park Avenue side of the building, the line that extends from the entrance door north; the line with the women and children is the line for our Methodist neighbors on the 2nd floor: Crossroads Community Services. The people are there for the food pantry.Crossroads operates the largest food pantry in the City of Dallas. Last year they distributed over 2 million pounds of food.
Now the line that extends from the south side of the Park Avenue entrance to the building, is the line for the Stewpot. Together, well over 300 people are waiting for the door to open; some start to line up around 5 or 6 in the morning.When the door opens there is a rush of humanity. Into the Stewpot surges that southside line. Many come in for morning coffee; 200 cups disappear quickly on one side of the main room. But those who need help forego the coffee and line up on the other side of the room. They are there for all sorts of reasons: help to get a state id card; they need clothes; or hygiene products; they need to make a dental appointment, they need to see a caseworker.
When the door opens and the outside crowd makes its way inside there is often three long lines formed inside at points merging. I guess waiting in line is simply a fact of life wherever life finds you. But I think it’s safe to say there’s far more waiting in line at the bottom than there is at the top. The day after President’s Day as the lines were formed to lighten things up, we were going to honor our Presidents and I asked if there were any former living Presidents of the United States in line. After some shock and of course no response I asked if there were any dead former Presidents, and then called out specific names: Is George Washington here? Is Warren G. Harding present with us today? I avoided paging Woodrow Wilson, because we actually have a Woodrow Wilson, but when I called for Millard Fillmore, I’m pretty sure I heard someone croak: “Here I am.” Last week I paged Donald Trump and Jennifer Aniston; both were no shows. But Donald Trump was given several additional pages on the PA system and after his final no-show page the room was instructed that if he’s spotted at the Stewpot: “Tell’m he’s fired!”
I’ll often stand near the front desk when people arrive and try to direct people to the correct line and try to answer quick questions that never seem to have quick and easy answers. I’ve gotten into a routine when the lines are settled in place, to take five of so books from the free book and magazine shelves. Much thanks to Trent Briscoe and his Eagle scout project we have been blessed with an incredible variety of books. The featured books get highlighted; sometimes if there’s someone who stands out -- a man with red shoes, maybe someone we know who’s facing some real difficult challenge --they’ll be singled out and awarded a special book. “This wonderful book with a brilliant silver cover will be bestowed on anyone who happens to be wearing red shoes and has a blanket over their head.” And someone we have known for over 20 years shuffles up beaming with pride and from under the blanket I hear in all sincerity: “I didn’t know this was Christmas and I was never given a book by a church.” Then the bright silver covered book disappears under the blanket and he walks away beaming.
A couple of weeks ago I got a letter from someone in prison. These letters come all the time and I always write back. This one letter stands out because it began. “Rev. Buchanan, you’ll remember me because when we were all crowded in the Stewpot waiting for lunch to begin you asked over the microphone if there was anyone in the Stewpot with blue hair.” The writer was thrilled to remind me that he was the guy with the blue hair and I told him that day his meal was free.
At a quiet moment, between President recognition day and red shoe specials and book moments, I found tucked away in the shelves just the hardcover binding of a book. The innards -- all the printed pages that make a book a book -- were missing. What was left was the front, spine and back cover to a Bible. We’ve featured Bibles in the book moments before but this was a unique opportunity. I announced: “Here we have the front and back and spine of the Holy Bible. Maybe, it’s a do it yourself Bible; what you put between the covers is going to be up to you!” A hand shot up from one of the crowded tables and a gentle man who we’ve known for years wore the biggest smile and called out: “I want that Bible cover”.
And I have a good idea what will go back within the remnants of that skinned Bible.