Putting the capital “I” in “irony”

I read an honest-to-goodness “life changing” article when I was a kid, and it came back this week like the Ghost Of News Articles Past.

I’m pretty sure the article came from Catholic Digest: a woman writing about how her church took up a food collection to help a parish family on hard times. She grudgingly bought a whole bunch of cheap stuff and shoved it in a paper bag. Two months later, she herself fell on hard times, and the person who’d done the food collection showed up at her door — holding her paper bag. “There was a mistake, and we forgot to deliver your food, so we’re giving it back to you.”

So here’s this woman now on hard times, in need of food — and she’s got this bag of crap, and she can’t even be furious at the person who donated it because she was the one who donated it. Ever since then, she wrote, she made sure to donate only things she really liked. When her church would put out a call for food donations, she’d look on her shelves and think, “I’d better give them coffee. I can’t live without my coffee.”

For all my adult life, I will only donate food I myself eat. (Exception: when they ask for something gross, I buy it.) I try to buy multipacks and cull out donations from those.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, I managed to keep my freezer cold for the first 36 hours, but at that point the stuff toward the front started getting warm. I called a friend who had power: “Are you hungry? How about half a freezer full of food?”

Either way, it was gone to me. Either it went rotten and I didn’t have it anymore, or she ate it and I didn’t have it anymore. I preferred the latter.

I ended up getting her husband on the phone, and he said, “Um…sure,” so I went through the freezer packing a cooler with anything still frozen rock-hard. But there was a lot, so I pulled out the best stuff. The frozen seafood, the chicken wings… I dropped it off with her husband, saying, “Don’t worry about returning the cooler any time soon. It’s not as if I have anything to keep cold.”

With that food out of the freezer, I was able to put in a bag of ice to try keeping the rest cold, and it worked, somewhat. I cooked some of the remainder the next day on the propane stove, and the rest I wrote off as a loss.

Well, God has a sense of humor. Clearly.

Last night, I came home to find the cooler sitting beside the fridge, and my husband said, “Look what came home.”

Because my friend brought back everything. I was perfectly happy with her feeding her family, but instead she brought back everything, and that’s the irony: because I packed up the best stuff to bring to her, what came back to me was the best.

There’s a lesson here for me, putting the “I” in irony. It’s Ecclesiastes 11 in real life: Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. 

And that’s not what I intended. I intended to feed someone, and instead she’s feeding me.


  1. Normandie

    How very true! Love that. I learned from a mother who always gave only her very best to charity. I would think of the women wearing her elegant clothes and her husband’s suits and imagine how proud they’d be–as I would have been had she and I ever been the same size. (Little mother, big daughter. Nope.)

    This is such a good story that I’m going to share it on Facebook, Jane.

    1. philangelus

      Thank you, Normandie! Your mom sounds awesome. 🙂

      People wouldn’t actually want my clothes. I’ll stick with the food. 😉

  2. Lorraine E. Castro

    Giving away to others always brings that generosity back to you. The state of your soul determines the flow that returns to you.

    Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.”

    1. philangelus

      I guess the thing is, I never really expected it that way. I figured you “get back” in terms of grace and growth, not actual “getting back” in terms of material items. This was just a very physical reminder that God’s not limited in this way, and sometimes being fed is as much an honor as feeding.

  3. seschoen

    We have a tradition for dental surgery (planned or accidental). After it, the patient gets to load up on their pick of baby food. (Well, not the fruit-flavoured sugar and corn-starch desserts.) It’s mostly a distraction, and I know the extra won’t be wasted.

    The other thing to remember is easy-to-cook. May of the recipients here are homeless or teenagers (or people who spent their teens on the street rather than in a warm home learning to cook). At least one local food bank makes one-size-fits-all hampers. Stupid.

    And money. They need to pay for the warehouse and shelves. They can buy what they need. Local stores often give them good deals, so a dollar in their hands goes much farther. They can also buy fresh food when needed.

    That’s not to say the little treat isn’t valuable. When the food bank buys, they buy the basics. If I give them something nice, then that’s what they give out. The same goes for socks and underwear. Not the thin, itchy ones. Local shelters run socks and underwear drives every year.

    1. philangelus

      The local food bank is servicing what I believe to be a middle-class population, rather than homeless. So they don’t have the same issues about being easy-to-prepare. Also, both the Angelborough and Angeltown food pantries have a “you shop like a grocery store” model, so if someone isn’t sure how to cook an item, they’ll pick something else.

      (When the church contributes to the homeless ministry, btw, they make and wrap sandwiches, and then drive them to a shelter downtown. Totally different need, served in a different way.)

      Our local grocery store has a relationship with the Angelborough Food Pantry. I actually wrote an article about them yesterday and interviewed the grocery store manager. 🙂

      As for treats — I do actually like giving those too. Not all the time, but sometimes. I always hope it makes someone happy.

  4. Marie

    I have a friend whose daughter has severe allergies. She donates the expensive alternatives to food drives: gluten-free flour, egg,soy, & nut free mixes, sunflower butter, etc. She knows how expensive and hard to find these things are.

    1. philangelus

      Wow — I never even thought about that! That must be a huge need. 🙁

  5. Judy

    I heard a comment on the radio long time ago to give what you would eat, so that is what I do.
    When there is a drive I usually pick up the basics – canned veggies, pasta, pasta sauce, mac & cheese, canned fruit, box or 2 of jello (fun, easy dessert) bags of pinto beans and rice. I think the only thing I get that I don’t get for my own family is spaghetti. We like pasta, just not that shape, and it seems that most people do.

    I get the same brands that I buy for us. (Many are house brands, but that is what we eat.)

    1. philangelus

      I used to feel guilty about giving store brands, so I’d end up buying name brands to donate and store brands for us. I’ve gotten over that. 🙂 The food pantry gets the same stuff we’re eating now. If we buy the name brand, they get that; if we buy the store brand, that’s what goes into the collection.

      I like the Jell-o idea. I’ll keep that in mind. I do donate cake mixes, but I hadn’t thought about Jell-o (or pudding. That would work too.)

      1. Kate

        Our pantry sends out a list of needs every few months – things that go quickly – and our parish posts the list next to the donations bin. The food bank serves mostly families, and one of the big needs around here (since we don’t have a subsidized school lunch program like the US) is stuff for brown bag lunches. It has got me thinking about how much it smooths my day to have snackable, portable food for my kids, so now I give the same stuff my kids love – animal crackers, goldfish, juice boxes, applesauce. Pudding and Jello would probably be good too!