By Icy Frantz
The other night, I was talking with a friend about 9/11 and his miraculous near miss. The company where he worked at the time was located in one of the Twin Towers, but on the morning of 9/11, he stayed home to take an early call.
Most of his colleagues died that day.
“And as devastating and awful as the attacks were,” he said, “during the months that followed, I saw the hand of God everywhere.”
I was struck by those words – the hand of God – how beautiful and timely- I knew immediately that they were applicable to the story I want to tell in my column today.
In my first draft (which ended up in the trash), I was using the story to defend the generosity of our town. (Why do I always feel Greenwich needs defending?) I wanted you, the reader, to understand what a unique and wonderful place Greenwich is – and it is – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the hand of God is all over this one.
So, here goes.
Back in early November, the following caught my eye:
Hello all, I am a professional chef but currently a stay-at-home Dad/personal chef to an almost 2-year-old in Riverside. As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I’m looking to cook as many traditional thanksgiving meals as I possibly can to distribute to the homeless / anyone who might not be as lucky as we are during the holidays… anyone in town that has the time to participate and help out would be amazing. -Juan
It was a post in an email from Nextdoor, an online site that connects neighbors virtually, and although I had never responded before, I found myself compelled to reply.
The Frantz family would love to help.
As Thanksgiving approached, there was an occasional update on the site, and details about how to donate money, food and time. My daughter and I signed on for a case of stuffing and cranberry sauce, as well as a two-hour shift of food prep scheduled for the Monday before the holiday.
I had very few details. We were meeting a man I met online in the basement of a church – oh, and we were to bring knives. Clearly, parenting skills at their finest.
I told a close friend, “If you don’t hear from me, send a search party…”
We arrived for our shift carrying the food we had promised and stepped into the basement, a space that was a little dark and cold but buzzing with activity. There were tables set up, people chopping, a big white board with a list of jobs written in blue ink, and piles of dried goods stacked in the corner. We introduced ourselves, and Juan, the online man, put us right to work.
We spent the next two hours chopping sweet potatoes and bread side by side with the other volunteers who were knee deep in celery and onions. And while we worked, I learned more about the effort.
Juan received many responses to his post and like ours they were from Greenwich neighbors who wanted to help.
One of the first came from Tony and his wife, Alston, who said they would fundraise and enlist a small army to carry out the prep work. They came through on both fronts, and pretty quickly Tony became Juan’s wingman. They also organized a walk at Tod’s Point for donors and volunteers to promote community. It did.
Another response, from Jenny, put Juan in touch with two local organizations, Community Centers Inc. (CCI) and Kids in Crisis. They were in need of Thanksgiving dinners.
Gabby, the Executive Director at CCI, offered up a professional kitchen.
Juan’s realtor from Houlihan Lawrence put together a food drive.
Juan’s neighbor took three days off from work so that he could help in any way needed.
Leading from the front was Juan himself. Professionally, he had worked in French restaurants and large catering companies in NYC before moving to Greenwich, so he knew how to manage a team, how much food to order, and how to cook it.
And the more I learned, the more I was amazed at how everything just seemed to line up and fall into place, perfectly. The right people at the right time appeared and helped and supported and donated and even chopped, and Thanksgiving dinners were given to those (as Juan put it in his original post) “not as lucky as we are in the holidays.”
50 families received the makings for complete Thanksgiving meals, and 90 beautifully prepared and plated dinners were delivered to the elderly and homebound, as well as to the residents at Kids in Crisis. It was an amazing accomplishment, wonderfully orchestrated.
My first draft (the one in the trash) read something like this:
Residents in our town step up. They come together to collect toys and coats and meals. They sit on the boards of not-for-profits and on town commissions and town government, offering their expertise, their help, and their spirit. They fill the gaps. And we see this during the holidays in particular.
And that’s all true; Juan’s story certainly highlights that spirit. Maybe that is simply what this story is about – a fine young man with a wonderful idea to make the holidays a little brighter.
But for me, it is hard to ignore the loving hand of God that must have intervened to bring this group of strangers together to assure that every job on that white board would be completed just so and to guarantee that those without would receive.
During difficult times, tragic times, we look for the hand of God. We desperately need the reassurance; we need to be held and comforted with hope. Occasionally, we don’t understand the hand of God until the time has passed and we are able to see more clearly. And sometimes, when life is good, our searching is less intentional, and we look right past the hand of God.
But I would challenge you to consider, this holiday season, the beauty that is our town, its parks and people, or the chance meeting with an acquaintance who says just the right thing at the right moment, or the discovery of a coveted parking space on lower Greenwich Avenue at lunch time days before Christmas (Hallelujah!) Or a post or a call to action found online that pulls on your heart to respond, engage, and participate.
And ask yourself the question, where does that come from?
When I met Juan for a cup coffee a few weeks after Thanksgiving to suggest writing a piece on his efforts, he said he didn’t want the attention, and I get that. But Tony and Juan wanted the awareness, and I wanted people to know that there are many ways to get involved; it’s something about which I am often asked.
So, be on the lookout – next Thanksgiving, the newly formed nonprofit, Food for Fairfield, will be back with bigger goals, more people to feed, more love to share, and more opportunities to participate and come together (don’t forget your knives). And with Juan and Tony at the helm, and the generosity that defines our town in force, and the hand of God, I have no doubt that all will be accomplished, and then some.
If you want to be a part of it, please email email@example.com