LUNCH with Kevin Ressler (Meals on Wheels)

LUNCH with Kevin Ressler (Meals on Wheels)

THE FIRST DETENTION KEVIN EVER RECEIVED WAS FOR REFUSING TO SAY THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE.

He was in third grade. He explained he was Mennonite, therefore he was not to pledge to anyone or anything above God. With Supreme Court rulings, the U.S. Constitution, and his dad on his side, Kevin learned a life-long lesson: When there is an injustice, fight it.

Many years ago, I taught 7th grade history to Kevin. Well, I hope I taught history to Kevin. In reality, he probably had already read the stories of Sumerians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. He was extremely bright and had little time for redundancy or traditional schooling. He was passionate about learning but not passionate about the bureaucracy of learning.

In spite of his aversion to bureaucratic structure, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Justice, Peace, and Conflict studies from Eastern Mennonite University, as well as his Master’s Degree of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary. What I learned from our brief time together is that he has learned to play the game but he still continues to think around, over, outside, and even ignore the proverbial box.

Kevin would tell you he sees beyond the box because he himself does not fit into a box. He is bi-racial and binational (his dad is Caucasian—Swiss/ German/American—and his mom is black—Tanzanian/Luo/Suba). In this country he is seen as black, but in his mother’s country he is seen as white. “What defines me,” he says, “is that I am Mennonite in this world, not of the world.” This multi-leveled, multicultural perspective lends itself to his current position of not just running but also trying to expand Lancaster city’s Meals on Wheels program.

Where others see barriers, Kevin sees opportunity.

Meals on Wheels of Lancaster (MOWL) currently serves just under 300 clients in Lancaster city and greater Lancaster, including the surrounding townships. This means two meals a day (one hot, one cold), five days a week, are delivered to people’s homes between the hours of 11 and 12. They have seven staff members and an additional 60 volunteers who put together these meals for not just the elderly and poor, but also those who have been injured, have undergone surgery, or are unable to shop and cook for themselves. For $8 a day ($10 for special dietary menus) two fresh meals are delivered, with a side order of a friendly check-in.

For most, these immense achievements would be enough. But Kevin sees beyond. He asks the questions no one thinks to ask, such as, “What about our minority communities, or our communities of new refugees and immigrants? What if they do not enjoy pork and sauerkraut? How can we offer all community members hospitality through meals they would actually enjoy? How can we provide more fresh fruits and vegetables from our community, known for its lush farm fields and bounty of produce?” Kevin is willing to ask more from his decades old organization, and is smart enough to understand change takes creativity and persistence. He has drafted friends to help revamp the computer system, extended his community relationships, and is looking to expand connections with food banks and restaurants. And he does all of this, as he emphatically states, “without direct state or federal aid money.”

When Kevin was 12 he had a paper route. “The paper was always late because I would read through it from the first to the last page. As I delivered it, I would talk to my customers along the way.” He personalized the conversation tidbits to the predilections of each client: “Hey, check out the International section. The Gaza strip has erupted again,” or, “There’s a great recipe for corn relish on page…” Even at 12, Kevin understood that people were not numbers or addresses, but individuals with needs and desires. The adolescent paperboy treated his customers like real people, which is something we often forget but definitely long for.

Today, Kevin is a 30-year-old married man with a one-year-old daughter he hopes to guide and support, helping her build resilience. He wants for Acacia exactly what he wants for all of us: to give her a voice, a platform, and recognition of her inherent worth. He asks himself each day, “Are you building God’s kingdom here on Earth or destroying it?”

An hour and a beef brisket sandwich later I was inspired to be better than I thought I could be, to find out if my aging aunt and mother could benefit from a daily meal and a friendly check-in, and to look into becoming part of his Meals on Wheels volunteer squad. “Please, we need you. We need anything you can give us. Tell people who do community service that we need them, too. We will take interns and volunteers. We work with everyone.” I am betting he brings out the best in them.

Before we parted ways, I asked him where he sees himself in ten years. “I never let my long-range goals get in the way of short-term opportunities.” May Lancaster be lucky enough to keep this unique, bright, positively impactful man. Perhaps together we can courageously, creatively, and patiently build our Heaven on Earth.