Michelle Martin

Feeding the multitudes

May 29, 2024

We’ve been having the siding on our house replaced over the past week, and it’s not done yet.

Apologies to our neighbors for the noise, but what the company estimated to be a three-day job will be entering day 7 tomorrow, with a crew of usually six men arriving shortly after 8 a.m. and working until about 4 p.m., measuring, cutting and installing materials.

The only time they stop is for lunch.

My husband has been providing lunch for the workers each day, and sitting outside and eating with them. Burgers off the grill, chili, fried chicken, a tray of cold cuts and buns to make sandwiches … the menu has varied, although it always includes cold water and soda to drink.

Some people — a lot of people — seem surprised by that. It’s unnecessary, they say. It’s an expense we don’t need to take on. It’s too much.

The thing is, it’s really not too much. Yes, the food costs money. Yes, preparing and cleaning up from lunch takes time and effort. But not really a lot of either, especially when we are eating the same lunch or eating the same food for dinner.

The cynical side of me wants to point out that feeding the workers keeps them on-site, under the eye of the foreman, who makes sure they don’t take too long of a break. Except that it’s usually the workers getting up, stacking their scraped plates neatly and going back to their jobs, often while the foreman is still talking to us, whether about the next steps in the project or about how proud he is of his kids.

I can also see situations where it would be uncomfortable or even feel risky, like if I was home alone with workmen I didn’t know.

My husband says it’s simple hospitality. His parents taught him that you don’t invite anyone into your home without at the very least offering some refreshment. That applies to relatives, friends of our children, neighbors, and, yes, workers.

He especially wants to show appreciation for workers who are doing things that we simply are not capable of doing ourselves, like, say, roofing, or installing siding, but really, it’s a simple matter of hospitality.

Hospitality is a biblical virtue, one practiced by the Holy Family. The story of Jesus’ birth in the stable because there was no room at the inn? A lack of hospitality. Their flight to and sojourn in Egypt? Apparent hospitality. Mary insisting that Jesus help the wedding couple at Cana, leading to his first miracle? The miracle of the loaves and fishes? Hospitality.

It’s about being generous and sharing what you have with those you encounter, particularly those who come to your home. It’s not that the workers, or anyone, really, has the right to food from our kitchen; we don’t have to offer the workers lunch. It’s more that, in this situation, it would feel ungenerous not to.

“Breaking bread together” is more than a saying and more than a metaphor. It’s what we are supposed to be doing.


  • family life