This story was written by Jessica Hearne, CBF Field Personnel serving through Grace and Main Fellowship.
Community doesn’t always show up where you expect it. Yes, sometimes you can find it like a rose in a manicured garden, beautiful and inviting, telling a story of care and commitment. Other times you’ll find it like a centuries-old oak tree firmly planted with roots that extend far beneath the surface. But we’ve found over and over again that community has a curious way of showing up in the places you might think it won’t or shouldn’t. The bonds of community can arise in inconvenient and unanticipated ways, like a dandelion pushing up through an inhospitable sidewalk. Sometimes it is not the goodness of the soil that seems to nurture community so much as it is the opportunity to cultivate something beautiful.
One of the unexpected places community has popped up in our lives has been a couple of minivans donated to our community as a way to provide rides. It’s good to have a public transportation system in Danville but, like so many places the size of our city, it just can’t meet all the many, complex, and varied needs of our people. Bus routes don’t always run by the most convenient stops. Buses stop running at 6 pm during the week and do not run at all on Sundays. There is a “Reserve-a-Ride” service that operates in the evenings, but it is four times more expensive than the regular bus service and must be reserved at least a day in advance. Reserving the bus wouldn’t normally be a problem. After all, Grace and Main has provided bus tokens for our people for years but, during the Covid-19 pandemic, new restrictions for social distancing meant that there were fewer seats to be had.
Denise called me one day last year after I had not heard from her in several months. She had been injured and needed a ride to her eye doctor. Medicaid transportation was not an option because the appointment was urgent, the bus schedule wouldn’t get her there in time, and it takes at least forty-eight hours to reserve transportation through Medicaid. Fortunately, I was free and could get her to the appointment. As we were reconnecting on the ride to the doctor, she unfolded her transportation woes more fully. She and her daughter had moved out of the neighborhood that was walking distance to her job and, while that was good in many ways, Denise was now having trouble getting home from work. She was able to use the city bus to get to work in the afternoons, but it was much more complicated at night.
So, where there is a gap in the sidewalk, there’s room for the beautiful dandelion of community. I began giving Denise rides home from work on the evenings when the bus wasn’t available. We also gave more rolls of bus tokens for the evenings it was. The rides helped her keep her job and pay her bills, and they gave me an opportunity to catch up with Denise and her family.
Mrs. Stanford and her son used to take the bus to go to the local food pantry. In the last year, the boxes from the pantry have gotten so big that carrying them home on the bus is impossible. While it’s a blessing to have more than you can carry easily, it does mean that it’s harder to get it home. Using the community’s shared minivan, our leaders have been able to take the Stanford family, as well as many others, to pick up the food boxes that have been crucial to making ends meet. We have also helped many people make bigger trips to the grocery store, making it possible for folks to pick up fresh and perishable food without worrying about how to carry it all home. All the while, we’ve grown community in an unanticipated place.
Some of our Urban Farm leaders get to the garden using the bus system, but even more ride along together in what becomes a rolling conversation by the time we pick everybody up. But when Jack texted me one day and asked if I could pick him up early to go the garden, I knew he needed some time to talk in private. Jack has been helping take care of his sick friend Billy, and the physical and emotional strain was taking a toll. “I just need to vent,” he said as he got in the van. During the ten-minute drive from his place to the Urban Farm, we chatted about Jack’s trouble getting Billy to appointments, and how Billy didn’t want to get out of bed and it was making him sicker. We talked about all the physical work Jack was doing, lifting Billy in and out of his bed and chair, helping him bathe, and taking care of his house. And we talked about Jack’s frustrations with Billy’s family as they were making decisions about his care. When we arrived at the farm for our volunteer day, Jack revealed that he couldn’t actually stay to work because he had to get to the hospital for visiting hours to see Billy. He said he’d catch the bus and confessed that the ride that was really just an excuse to talk to someone he knew would listen. I told him he could vent to me anytime and took comfort in how community shows up where it’s needed and not just where it’s convenient.
So far this year, I have given over 250 rides to our friends in Danville who don’t have their own transportation. That’s more than fifty hours I have spent chatting with folks about their health, joys, and frustrations, and listening to stories about where they’ve been and what they’ve seen and experienced. Fifty hours of tending the gardens of community that may not always have the beauty of a rose or the longevity of an oak, but seem to have the tenacity and persistence of a dandelion instead. Fifty hours of learning that that’s a beauty and longevity of its own.
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