The Elisha Project is a story birthed more than 30 plus years ago, and for me – I know long before I was thought of. For the first few years of the project, I tried to tell the Elisha Project story while concealing the very core of its inspiration. Perhaps it was due to my pride.
Understanding that most try to stay away from long narratives; I promise you that I will be as guarding of your time as I am with the lunches we prepare each day.
On a brisk March morning, life as I knew it changed. Now everyone has a story to tell and mine is no better or worse than the next person’s; this one just happens to be mine. There was a knock on my door requesting that my brother, grandmother and I accompany the person on a 20-minute taxi ride to my mother’s residence in Brooklyn. My brother and I lived with my grandmother. I was 15 years of age at the time. The year was 1985.
The memories of that day in Bushwick are forever etched in my experience. I am unsure of what was said to me by the police as I floated out of that car and bounded into the building that I once lived on the third floor of with my mother, two brothers, two sisters and stepfather.
As I climbed the stairs past many strange people I completely forgot how much I despised the decrepit building and it’s offensive smells. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and is something twenty-six years later I remember, every time I see them again. My two sisters and two female cousins were coming down the stairs, daisy-chained together in their unkempt hair and pajamas. They were just babies with my eleven year old sister being the eldest. They were so happy to see me. They smiled. And called my name. I was the eldest after all.
I kissed them and tears immediately rolled down my face as I had recently tried to enter the apartment but was not allowed. I had not laid eyes on them in a while. They did not look well. What I assume was the bureau of child welfare kept them moving as I made my way up the stairs. On the next landing was my mother. She too was happy to see me. She was wearing that red coat that I despised and her blue bandana, worn carpenter jeans and a scuffed pair of brown wallabies.
This woman that I adored, that gave me life…that had loved me…was being led in iron handcuffs by policemen down our stairs.
She called me by my name and had such a look of sadness, relief, joy and exhaustion on her face but none of those mirrored the look of pure anger I felt in my soul. As she leaned in to kiss me I instinctively pulled back and away. She shouted, “I love you” as I ran up the stairs. I would never see her alive again.
There are adequate enough words to describe what I found in that apartment. But my youngest brother of seven years lost his life that day. As a result of my mother’s negligence some say and human frailty say others – we all lost a brother and a mother.
He was a normal 7-year-old boy and the love of my life. She was a great mother who fell on hard times and had no one there to lend a hand and knock on her door to check on her.
To the data collectors she was a statistic, as were we. To me she was the embodiment of a cruel world that ate up those not strong enough and not protected enough to fight back. As a Atheist friend in California once told me, we were victims of natural selection.
In my anger that day I vowed to do something about all of this one day. Now the route to doing something has been filled with a lot of detours through the military, school, corporate America, and even theological training but here we are…
You see, every day that we are out there doing the Elisha Project there is a good chance that we are reaching a mom, a dad, a child, a neighbor in need on either side of the bag.
There is a chance that a boy will see the love that he is missing from his life. A chance that in so minute a gesture, there is a flicker of that thing that people all over the world desperately need…HOPE.
And every day that we are out there I am reminded that he didn’t die in vain; that we can make a difference regardless of who we are or what we have or don’t have.
A seed must fall into the ground in order to grow and blossom and feed so many more.
You may see food and clothes being handed out in the videos…but don’t be fooled; we are giving out LOVE and HOPE.
Sometime that materializes in a lunch, sometimes a dinner, sometimes a conversation.
Then there are the times when no one is watching and it’s just some mom and me on her last leg looking me in the eye and saying, “I can’t do this anymore.” And I can put my arm around her and say, “you can…and you must…and we are going to help you in any way that we can.”
God allows various situations to come in and out of our lives and they should never be squandered as merely A TIME.
For every day opportunities are clothed in trials big and small. The love that God put in my heart and the plan that He had for me before I was made continues to be revealed every day. He also has a plan for you and your life.
We are not financially rich and we are not well funded. In fact, we barely make it from week to week. But in the words of my Grandmother Juanita Rivera, who raised me and lived to the ripe old age of 94 years:
THERE IS ALWAYS ENOUGH TO SHARE”
What we are at EP – is incapable of ignoring the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, or neighbors that line our world…you included.
That boy lives every time we serve. He has fueled me since that day in March and I thank God for his life. Come join us and Give of yourself. Love others. And Live for service.
Donate one meal I dare you…it will change your life.
George L. Ortiz, Jr.
founder and servant
The Elisha Project