The Hugging and Singing Prayer Lady

I wrote this a couple years ago for Journalism class. I re-wrote it this morning to be a story rather than a news article. Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for submissions. They publish books yearly on various topics. One category they are accepting submissions for is acts of kindness. And I thought- what better story to submit than this one...
Maybe I'll get lucky, and they'll choose it for the next book.

Crista Jakacky
Bangor ME ¬August 27, 2021

You can’t see a halo or wings when you look at my mother, but if you ask anyone who knows her, they’ll say it’s just because they’re invisible. Now, I’m not of the faith, but I might have to agree with that. 

Yes, she’s my mom, but I’m certainly not biased. I’m a brutally honest (sometimes more brutal than honest) person, a skeptical cynic. “Mom bias” doesn’t apply to us a lot of the time. She doesn’t always get my approval, or praise, or warm and fuzzy feelings (probably not as much as she deserves). This, as the saying goes, just “is what it is.” 

My mom is a busy retiree living in Glenburn, Maine. I often hear retirees say they are busier than they were while working. They’re traveling, spending time on their hobbies, finding new ones, sometimes volunteering, even working a part-time job. And mom is no exception to the rule. But she stays busy with a purpose. Multiple purposes, actually.

She has always been a kind and altruistic person, but her crazy obsession with humanity began a little over 10 years ago, before retirement, when she went to New York city with a group called "Street Pastors." Street Pastors is a worldwide organization that originated in London, with only two official groups here in the U.S.- Chico, California, and Bangor, Maine. Who knows why the Bangor group exists. Most people have no idea where Bangor is. Most people from outside of Maine have never even heard of Bangor. Some don't even know where Maine is. “Is that part of Canada?” people ask (imagine a sigh and a facepalm here). 

The group walked the streets of NYC for days, handing out food and supplies to the homeless population. They spoke with people walking the streets; homeless or not. They didn’t preach (as you might expect, based on their name), but they did offer prayers if and when appropriate. Mostly, they just wanted to connect with people. To be a kind, supportive presence for anyone who might need it.

 Since that trip, mom has done the same thing here on the weekends with the Bangor branch. They walk all around downtown Bangor, sometimes as late as 2am (much to my dismay). She refuses to carry the mace I bought her, regardless of my arguments. She laughs at my worry and tells me it’s safe, that she’s with the group. Ever the optimist (imagine another sigh and facepalm). They do the same things here as they did years ago in New York- passing out snacks and water bottles, handing out taxi vouchers for bar patrons who are too intoxicated to drive, and just being there for people. For a shoulder, for conversation, a prayer, or even a hug. 

Mom is a member of two churches here in town. On Sunday mornings, she leads worship at “The Biker Church,” singing and playing her guitar. Afterwards, she heads over to services at “River Church,” and later that afternoon she participates in their bible study. On Wednesday nights, she returns to The Biker Church for their mid-week service.

A few days a week, mom can be found volunteering for an organization called “Samaritan Inc.” Samaritan Inc. operates food cupboards six days a week, at various local churches. All day long she packs and hands out boxes of food to local families in need. She also plays her guitar and sings while the families eagerly wait their turn in line. After the long day is over, she loads her car with any leftover food and delivers it to The Biker Church, where they provide two meals a day and a 24/7 warming center. 

On Monday nights, after spending all day at the food cupboard, she goes down to the Bangor waterfront with a group called “Jericho Road.” They park their box truck along the river, where most of the area homeless have made their homes, and hand out food and supplies. She plays her guitar and sings there, too. The homeless are often the most appreciative of audiences. Rain, snow, or dangerously stifling heat, they are always there. Every Monday night, every season, all year. 

And just as she does with the food cupboards, she delivers anything left to “The Storehouse.” The Storehouse is part of The Biker Church that also provides the homeless with clothing and necessities. They also give to people who are transitioning from homelessness; things like furniture, kitchen or bath supplies, clothes, Christmas gifts and school supplies for the kids. 

 As if that weren’t enough, she is also the caretaker of her 90-year-old roommate. The roommate is well, mostly. As healthy as a 90-year-old can be, I suppose. But she is very unsteady on her feet, can hardly hear, and can barely see. Mom takes her to countless doctor’s appointments, and basically tends to her every need. That roommate, as appreciative as she is, can sometimes be overbearing and ornery. That roommate is her mother. We call them The Golden Girls of Glenburn. 

When mom is not busy caring for Nana or volunteering, she collects donations from her friends and family. In the rest of her (very little) spare time, she delivers them to The Storehouse. 

Mom sees many of the same faces at all of her volunteer locations, and even at church services. They are always excited to see her coming. They love her dearly, and have named her “Tina the Hugging and Singing Prayer Lady.” She always leaves them with a prayer (if it is welcomed, and it usually is) and a hug. 

And she leaves them with hope

But she insists, “I’m not there to preach, I’m just there to help.”