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Pork and Beans 

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"We don't turn nobody away," declares the Reverend Freddie Henderson. "I always tell people they shouldn't be ashamed of being on aid. At least they have something. There have been times when I didn't know where my next meal was coming from. I've been hungry myself. I don't forget."

It's 10 on a Saturday morning, and the front door of the Spirit of Faith MB Church, on the corner of 53rd and Honore, is open. Outside, residents of this Back of the Yards neighborhood are lining up to receive a single grocery bag of food. "We get the food once every two months," Henderson explains. "It comes by truck from the Salvation Army. We get about 2,000 pounds, and we gives it out until it's all gone. This food is not for the church members, though they can get it, too, if they come stand in line. It's for the people in the community."

The people in the community are Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian, Arab, Puerto Rican, and black. They enter, two or three at a time, sign their names, and move through the sanctuary into the back room of the church, where volunteers are loading up and handing out the bags. Each contains one bag of flour, one of cornmeal, two packages of dried egg mix, two slabs of butter, a can of pork, a can of pork and beans, one box of raisins, one can of peanut butter, and two bottles of honey.

An elderly Polish woman moving through the line inquires: "No cheese?" The women bagging the food shake their heads, confirming that there is no cheese this time. The elderly woman approaches me. "We used to get cheese," she says, "but the winos come in and get it. They sell it in the tavern for a bottle. Now, no cheese. Everybody suffers." She wanders off with another woman still talking, only in Polish now. They exit through the back door, holding their bags tight.

If you didn't know it was there, you might miss the Spirit of Faith Church. A one-story brick building painted white with red trim, it sits unassumingly amid the brick bungalows that line the streets. Originally a firehouse, the building was being used as a garage for stolen cars to be stripped when the church moved in three years ago. "There were auto parts all over the place," Henderson remarks.

"The floor was covered with grease," adds Diane, a lifelong neighborhood resident. "When he [Henderson] first came, I asked him, 'What are you gonna do with this place?' 'Oh, you'll see. You'll see,' he said." She makes a sweeping gesture around the sanctuary, a simple but functional room that includes two rows of seven pews and a chancel with a sturdy wood pulpit. The pulpit is flanked on either side by folding chairs for the choir, and behind it are three square windows draped with plain red cloth. An organ and amplifier sit, stage left, under a fourth window that is carved in the shape of a cross. "Now look at it," Diane says. "You can't believe what he's done! He's a dynamite person."

Henderson, a lean, average-sized man who appears younger than his 50-some years, says he was called to preach. "I got my calling back in '71, but I ignored it for a year. I was kind of a playboy when I was young," he says smilingly. He looks at me. "You know." He puts one foot up on a pew, rests his elbow on his knee, and looks across the church as he remembers.

"Then, it was one day, a Sunday. I was driving downtown on Indiana, and I got the calling again. I found myself crying, and I asked myself, 'Why are you crying? You're not sad.'" He pauses and pushes an open palm toward me. "It's a feeling that your skin understands." He stands up straight and gestures with both hands toward his midsection. "It's something that you feel with your insides, and it just moves all through you. People ask, 'Well, how do you know it was the spirit talking to you?'" He turns the palm of one hand up, holding it out as if to accept a gift. "It's not a spoken voice. Your whole body understands what's being said. It's kind of hard to explain. You just know." He drops his hand to his side. "I've been preaching ever since."

Henderson organized the Spirit of Faith Church 13 years ago. Since that time the congregation has worshiped at over half a dozen places. "We had our first service in the basement of Yosemite Gardens Baptist Church on Morgan," Henderson states. "I hope this is the last move. The bottom line," he says, "is money. We're paying cash for everything now, but there's still lots to be done. I want to get a new heater," he says as he points to the old one in the corner of the service room. "That'll cost, oh, about $2,000. It's a matter of keep-up and catch-up."

By 11 AM, the volunteers need more bags of flour and cornmeal, stacked on a nearby table. By 11:30, the butter and honey are running out; only one slab and one bottle are now placed in each bag. By the time the distribution is over, at noon, over 100 people have passed through the church to pick up food.

"There are places that do more than we do," Henderson says. "I wish we could do more, but some of the people who come here won't go to the bigger places. They don't want people to see them." Nearly all of the people were openly appreciative. They thanked the volunteers and stopped to shake hands and speak with the Reverend Henderson.

"People are looking for something," Henderson says. "If we can give them something to help their insides, help them before they get hungry, that's what we're about.

"These days, it seems the church has lost out. We don't get the respect. It's hard to put your finger on why. Lack of jobs?" He pauses to ponder his own query. "I want people to know that the church is still out here helping. I believe that if you help somebody, eventually you'll get help."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.


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