A greengrocer is visited daily by a little boy who takes the overripe fruit he can no longer sell. One day, he decides to follow him and find out why.
A dollar won’t stretch, we all know that. Times have been hard all around, but they are always harder on the very poor. The less you have, the shorter the money seems to be, and as we know, a dollar won’t stretch
Families struggling to put food on the table must buy what’s cheapest, so fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t on the list. Mr. Lewis knew this. He’d been through some pretty hard times himself. He knew what it was to go hungry…
That was why Mr. Lewis had a box at the front of his fruit and vegetable store in which he put produce that was just a little too overripe to sell. The poorest people in the neighborhood knew it was there for the taking.
Most of the people who ‘shopped’ at what Mr. Lewis thought of as his charity box were the elderly in the neighborhood or thin, harried-looking women with too many children to feed.
Then one day, a little boy walked by. He saw an old woman take a handful of tomatoes and some oranges, and she didn’t pay. She thanked Mr. Lewis and walked on.
Those who live in abundance shouldn’t forget those who live in need.
The boy asked, “Aren’t you mad?”
Mr. Lewis smiled. “Why would I be mad?”
“You’re mad when the boys try to steal the apples!” the boy said.
“That’s true,” Mr. Lewis agreed. “But this is different. This fruit needs to be eaten right away so it doesn’t go off, so I let people who can’t afford to buy take it.”
“OH!” the boy gasped. “Can I have some too?”
“Of course, son!” Mr. Lewis said gently. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Peter,” the boy said. “Peter Dean.”
“Peter,” Mr. Lewis said. “Wait a minute.”
Mr. Lewis fetched a string bag and quickly filled it with a selection of several different fruits from the charity box. “Here you go!” he said. “Enjoy, and come back anytime you need more!”
Peter thanked Mr. Lewis and ran off with the fruit. The next day, he was back and he had his own bag. He politely asked Mr. Lewis if he could take some fruit, then off he ran with his treasure.
Peter became a daily visitor at Mr. Lewis’ shop. Sometimes, Mr. Lewis would even put in some of the freshest produce for the boy. He started wondering who Peter was and if he needed more help than he was getting.
One afternoon, Mr. Lewis decided to follow Peter. He watched from a distance as the kid approached a shabby-looking house, looking around furtively.
Was his little visitor a thief? wondered Mr. Lewis. He saw Peter creep up the steps of the porch, and leave the bag of fruit by the door, then run away!
Mystified, Mr. Lewis followed Peter to another equally poor-looking house. There, the boy stomped up the steps, opened the door, and yelled, “MOM! I’m home!”
So Peter wasn’t taking any of the fruit home even though he obviously needed it! Mr. Lewis was mystified. The following day, when Peter came by, Mr. Lewis called him aside.
“Peter,” he said gently. “What do you do with the food you take? Do you give it to your mom?”
Peter shook his little head. “No,” he said. “I take it to my grandmother’s house. She is looking after my little cousin but she doesn’t have a lot of money because she doesn’t have a job.
“My mom tries to help, but my grandmother won’t let her. She says my mom is also struggling and has her own family to feed. So I leave the food on the porch so she doesn’t know it’s me.”
Mr. Lewis looked down at Peter with tears in his eyes. “Peter,” he asked. “Don’t you ever take anything for yourself?”
Peter hung his head. “I did once. You put in this shiny red apple…” he confessed. “But afterward, I felt bad because Sally needs it more than me.”
“Does your mom know?” asked Mr. Lewis.
Peter shook his head again. “No,” he whispered. “And she’s very proud. She’d be ashamed to know I took charity.”
“You wait here a minute, my boy,” Mr. Lewis said. He went inside the shop and filled two large bags to the brim with delicious, crisp fruit and vegetables.
He accompanied Peter to his grandmother’s house, and they left a bag on the porch as always. Then Mr. Lewis accompanied Peter to his house. He knocked on the door and waited for Peter’s mom to answer.
“Hello, Mrs. Dean,” Mr. Lewis said. “I own the greengrocer on Barton Avenue. Peter has been helping me after school, and he won’t take any money so I decided to pay him in goods.”
Mr. Lewis put the heavy bag into Mrs. Dean’s arms. Mrs. Dean was stunned. “Peter didn’t tell me!” she cried.
“He’s a good boy,” Mr. Lewis said. “I only wish he was 10 or 12 years older…”
“Why'” asked Mrs. Dean.
“I want to open up another shop two streets over and I am looking for decent, hardworking people to run it for me,” Mr. Lewis explained. “Would you be interested?”
“Yes!” gasped Mrs. Dean. “I would!”
“I always have two employees,” Mr. Lewis explained. “Can you recommend anyone?”
Mr. Lewis was as good as his word. The new shop opened and Peter’s mom and his grandmother started working there. Mr. Lewis paid them good salaries, and the two women turned out to be excellent employees.
They followed Mr. Lewis’ tradition of putting a charity box upfront. If they sometimes slipped a needy person some nice new potatoes or a bag of apples, Mr. Lewis didn’t mind.