Little Millie said to her mother, “Can we go to see Luisa today?” It was Wednesday, Love & Lunch at Our Lady of Loretto Food Pantry and Parish Social Ministry in Hempstead Long Island. Her mother explained that she had many things to do. Millie insisted that she had a very important picture to give Luisa, so mommy, Wanda, from El Salvador, surrendered, packed up herself and 2 kids, 7 year old Millie and 3 year old Dudley.
Wanda has been part of the group for over 7 years, when she came hesitantly to the church as a young, undocumented, single, pregnant woman. She risked being judged, rejected and guilty, and found acceptance, compassion, understanding, love and a substitute family. She went to school for English across the street from the church, and also learned how to sew there. Her daughter went to the preschool. She had her daughter baptized in the church where we meet and managed to keep her daughter and herself clothed, fed and sheltered with a little help from the church. Then she met another man and became pregnant, returning again to the church clothed in shame, again to be welcomed, understood and loved. She and Dudley’s father have provided a stable home for Millie and Dudley, filled with warmth and love.
Dudley came in happily and embraced me. I knew him from before he was born. I knew his older sister from before she was born, and I am her God mother. We all have been part of Love & Lunch, our weekly family style lunch gathering, as we have moved and grown, upstairs, downstairs, in a hallway, around a table, in the back of the chapel, wherever we are able to gather. Women come back week after week, year after year, to a little oasis of peace and sharing in the middle of a busy and chaotic life. Sometimes the women get jobs or go to school, or get sick, and then they return years later, hoping to find us here for them.
So Millie confidently marched up to me with her picture of fish, so beautifully arranged in rows of bright fish stickers.
Louise M. Sandberg is a IVC Spiritual Reflector and Volunteer, as Director of the Mary & Elizabeth Center which reaches out to women in need on Long Island, NY. She is a pediatric home care nurse and facilitates Wildflower groups for women healing from childhood abuse, praying for healing of feelings and memories.