On File

Relevents: Jim Waters

Jim Waters, a longtime volunteer at the Salvation Army’s Spring Valley, N.Y., Corps, talks about how his food truck ministry has grown over the years, the concept of empaction, and the sign he got from the Lord on the first anniversary of 9/11.

For the first 15 years of the Spring Valley Corps Saturday food truck ministry, I did most of the work. But around ten years ago, we saw more volunteers show up on Saturdays. One of those volunteers was married to a dietician who stressed the importance of eating healthy. We then began to serve individually prepared meals instead of canned food. When the number of people we fed grew to around 200, we were fortunate to have a cook on our team who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America. He knew exactly how much food was required for large groups, and made sure everyone was served the right–sized portions. Our volunteers have been a blessing to this ministry. Today, I would not be able to run the program without them.

My wife Judy and I were asked to represent the Spring Valley Corps at Ground Zero on the first anniversary of 9/11. The day before, we checked into our hotel in Manhattan with enough supplies to serve a thousand people. Later, while walking in midtown, I picked up a newspaper on the sidewalk. On the last page, there was a photo of firemen on 9/11 looking at the second tower. I recognized one of the firemen as Vincent Princiotta. He lived across the street from us and died saving people as the second tower collapsed. After his death, Judy and I had grown close to his widow and their young daughter. Seeing Vinny’s photo in that newspaper was a sign that God wanted Judy and me to be there. He was preparing us both for our work the next day.

When I worked as a consultant, I coined the term empaction: a combination of empathy and action. It applies to the world of consulting, but also to families, with students and teachers, and even to ministry. When you work with someone, empathize with them—understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and what they want to accomplish. When you have that knowledge and perspective, you can act on what that person needs. We don’t always take time to get into people’s minds and see things from their point of view. We’ve become an “act, then think” society. We need to go back to “stop, think, then act.”

I know that there are many people who don’t look like me or who were not born in my situation who have worked just as hard as I have throughout my life.  Knowing that fact, it gives me joy to take time to help others. The God I love and believe in cares about how we treat His children, rather than who we are, what our religion is, or even if we have religion.

The food truck feeds many jornaleros, or day laborers. Talking to them, I learned that their families need help with legal counseling and health care. Working with the Rockland Immigration Coalition, we created resource guides so these families would have lists of non–profit, non–fee based organizations they could go to for legal advice, food, health info, and educational resources. We pushed these guides to Rockland organizations so they could share them with every person they help. My dream is that one day these resource guides will be hung wth magnets on refrigerators in the kitchens of immigrant families.

interview by Hugo Bravo