In 2011, one family envisioned simply REFUSING TO DO NOTHING! That family decided to go out independently and serve bag lunches in Providence, Rhode Island. Their initial investment of $48.00 yielded exactly 24 meals, and the ELISHA project (EP) was born.
EP is a movement focused on bringing diverse communities together through service, sharing, teaching, and learning – to impact all communities positively.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
So we serve everyone.
The ELISHA project story was birthed more than 30 years ago, and for me – I know long before that. For the first few years of the project, I tried to tell EP’s story while concealing the core of its inspiration. Perhaps it was due to my pride, shame, or fear.
Understanding that most try to stay away from long narratives, I promise to be as guarding of your time as I am with the meals and products we deliver every day.
On a brisk March morning, life as I knew it changed. Now everyone has a story to tell, and mine is no better or worse than the next person’s; this one is mine. A knock on my door requested that my brother, grandmother, and I accompany the person on a 20-minute taxi ride to my mother’s residence in Brooklyn. My brother and I lived with my grandmother. I was 15 years of age at the time. The year was 1985.
The memories of that day in Bushwick are forever etched in my experience. I am unsure of what was said to me by the police as I floated out of that car and bounded into the building I once lived on the third floor of with my mother, two brothers, two sisters, and stepfather.
As I climbed the stairs past many strange people I completely forgot how much I despised the decrepit building and its offensive smells. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and is something I see all these years later. I remember every time I see them again. My two sisters and two female cousins came down the stairs, daisy-chained together in unkempt hair and pajamas. They were just babies, with my eleven-year-old sister being the eldest. They were so happy to see me. They smiled. And called my name. I was the most senior, after all.
I kissed them, and tears immediately rolled down my face as I had recently tried to enter the apartment but was not allowed. I had not laid eyes on them in a while. They did not look well. The New York Bureau of Child Welfare kept them moving as I ascended the stairs. On the next landing was my mother. She, too, was happy to see me. She wore that red coat I despised, her blue bandana, worn carpenter jeans, and a scuffed pair of brown wallabies.
This woman I adored, who gave me life…that had loved me…was being led in iron handcuffs by policemen down our stairs.
She called me by my name and had such a look of sadness, relief, joy, and exhaustion on her face, but none of those mirrored the look of pure anger I felt in my soul. As she leaned in to kiss me I instinctively pulled back and away. She shouted, “I love you,” as I ran up the stairs. I would never see her alive again.
There are not enough words to describe what I found in that apartment. But my youngest brother of seven years lost his life that day. As a result of my mother’s negligence, some say, human frailty, say others – we all lost a brother and a mother, and a lot of our hearts.
He was an ordinary 7-year-old boy and the love of my life. She was a great mother who fell on hard times and had no one there to lend a hand and knock on her door to check on her…a network to rely on…someone to let her know she was part of a community.
To the data collectors, she was a statistic, as were we. She embodied a cruel world that ate up those weak or ill-equipped to fight back. An Atheist friend in California once told me we were victims of natural selection.
In my anger that day, I vowed to do something about all of this one day. Now the route to doing something has been filled with many detours through the military, school, corporate America, and even theological training, but here we are…
You see, every day that we are out there doing the work of the ELISHA project, there is a good chance that we are reaching a mom, a dad, a child, or a neighbor in need on either side of the bag.
There is a chance that a boy will see the love that he is missing from his life. A possibility that in so minute a gesture, there is a flicker of that thing that people worldwide desperately need…HOPE.
And every day that we are out there, I am reminded that he didn’t die in vain; we can make a difference regardless of who we are or what we have or don’t have.
A seed must fall to the ground to grow, blossom, and feed so much more.
You may see food, clothes, furniture, and supplies handed out in the videos…but don’t be fooled; we are giving out LOVE, HOPE, and COMMUNITY.
Sometimes that materializes in a lunch, occasionally furniture, sometimes employment, sometimes a conversation.
Then there are the times when no one is watching, and it’s just some mom and me on her last leg looking me in the eye and saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” And I can put my arm around her and say, “you can…and you must…and we are going to help you in any way we can.”
God allows various situations to come in and out of our lives, and they should never be squandered as merely A TIME.
Everyday opportunities are clothed in trials, big and small. The love that God put in my heart and His plan for me before I was made continues to be revealed daily. He also has a plan for you and your life.
We are not independently wealthy and fight for every dollar that goes out. But in the words of my Grandmother Juanita Rivera, who raised me and lived to the ripe old age of 94 years:
“THERE IS ALWAYS ENOUGH TO SHARE”
We at EP – are incapable of ignoring the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, or neighbors that line our world…YOU included.
That boy lives every time we serve. He has fueled me since that day in March, and I thank God for his life. Join us and GIVE ALL. LOVE ALL. LIVE 4 SERVICE.
Serve one time; I dare you…it will change your life.