Food Equals Love

By Diane Stark

“What did you do for your birthday yesterday?” I asked him.

“You brought cupcakes for my class, remember?”

“Well, yeah, but what did you do last night? With your family?”

He shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Did your mom make something special for dinner?”

He shook his head without looking at me.

I ducked my head to catch his eye and smiled. “Well, at least you got two cupcakes. One at school and one at home.”

He shook his head again. “I took home the leftover cupcakes, and I set them on the table so I could go to the bathroom. When I came out, they were all gone.”

Tears burned my eyes at his response. “Your brothers and sisters ate your birthday cupcakes and didn’t save one for you?”

He shrugged. “At least I got one at school.”

I’d brought the extra cupcakes on purpose because I knew his mom wouldn’t remember his birthday. She never did. She also didn’t remember to attend his parent-teacher conferences, watch his Christmas programs, or help him with his homework.

Sam was one of those kids people labeled “at risk.” He was academically far behind his second grade class. He had few friends, and he often came to school dirty and hungry. My heart broke for him, and I wished I could do more to help him.

But I was just the volunteer who tutored him each Friday morning. I helped him with his spelling words and math facts. I tried to be a friend to him, and I did my best to encourage him to keep trying with his school work.

But my efforts felt woefully insignificant. I only saw him for an hour each week. How much difference could I make? Could my single hour of positive attention counteract all of the negativity in his life?

I didn’t see how.

For my job as a freelance writer, I was asked to interview a pastor for a story I was writing. This pastor led a church in an impoverished part of a large city and his church ran many programs to help the needy in his community. “To hungry people, food equals love,” he told me.

His words made me think of Sam, that hungry little second grader who tugged on my heartstrings every Friday morning.

“I just wish there was more I could do for him,” I often told my husband.

“Honey, you take cupcakes on his birthday, you watch him sing at the Christmas program, and you’re there to tutor him every Friday. All of those things add up.”

I shook my head. “It’s just not enough.”

The next Friday, I was on my way to see Sam, and the DJ on the radio read the quote of the day. It was from Sydney Smith and it said, “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.”

The words reminded me of Sam. I was doing what I could, but it never seemed like enough. Then for some reason, I remembered what the pastor had told me about food equaling love to those in need.

I’d heard Sam’s stomach growl during our tutoring sessions. He got free breakfast and lunch at school, but I was concerned what he was eating for dinner each night. And more than that, I often worried about him going hungry on the weekends.

I stopped at a gas station and bought a small package of crackers. After Sam and I had gone over his spelling words, I handed him the crackers. “Here’s a snack in case you get hungry over the weekend,” I said.

His eyes lit up. “Thank you,” he said. “These crackers are my favorite.”

For the first time ever, Sam hugged me good-bye when I left that day.

The next Friday, I grabbed a Fruit Roll-up from our pantry on my way to see Sam. When I gave it to him, he asked if he could eat it right then.

“But what if you get hungry over the weekend?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I’m hungry now.”

The next week, I brought two Fruit Roll-ups. “One for now and one for later,” I said.

Sam’s smile was the biggest I’d ever seen on his little face.

“We don’t have stuff like this at my house,” he said.

“What’s your favorite treat?” I asked. “If someone took you to a grocery store and told you to pick any thing you wanted, what would you choose?”

Sam thought long and hard. Finally, he said, “Hershey kisses.”

I smiled, already planning to bring a small bag of the chocolates the following Friday.

Today, Sam is in fifth grade. I still tutor him every Friday morning, and I still bring him a small treat every week. Actually, I bring two treats – the one for now and one for later policy was such a hit that I’ve adopted it as the new standard. I usually throw in a few extra snacks for him to share with his siblings, although I’m not sure that he does.

I’ve found that the pastor’s words are truer than I could’ve imagined. With Sam, food does equal love. Every week, he looks at me out of the corner of his eye and says, “So what’s in the bag this week?”

“Cheese crackers and fruit snacks,” I say. “One snack for now and one for later.”

Sam smiles and reaches for his treat. Then we practice his spelling words. These days, Sam always hugs me good-bye. It’s become the new standard too.

I’ve come to really care about Sam. And the primary way I show him is through the small treats I bring him each week.

Food is important to all of us. I bring food for Sam to show him that he is important to me.

It’s not a lot. But I’ve learned that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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2 Responses to “Food Equals Love”

  1. Carol Emmons Hartsoe says:

    Diane, your story really touched my heart. I’m sure Sam will always remember that you gifted him… not only with treats, but with your time, and sincere concern for his comfort and success in school too. It might seem to you that what you did for him was a small thing, but I think it was huge.

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Such a heart tugging story. Thank you for what you do,

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