My Ocala: Feeding The Sparrows

For a time in Ocala, when Cokes and Royal Crown Colas cost less than a dime and gas was under a quarter a gallon, we didn’t worry about things like hunger in our midst. The village was always there to help raise and nurture its children.

I suppose it could have happened, but the idea of a child of any race going to bed hungry or suffering malnutrition in Marion County seemed as remote as, well, gas going over 50 cents a gallon someday.

At its heart, however, Ocala, then a community of 12,000, cared for its own. If a son or a daughter misbehaved or got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, word got back to their mamas and daddies lickety-split, even without a cell phone.

Families had less money then, and even middle-class children had to wear hand-me-downs or walk to school. But to go hungry or homeless? No way.

Concerned citizens with Restore Ocala tell us that some 1,500 homeless children in Marion County now go hungry every day. How could this be? Could we not find a few morsels from our tables to feed these children?

With this concern on their hearts, about 600 people gathered on a Sunday afternoon this past spring in downtown Ocala at a place once known as the Marion County Courthouse. They wanted to make a statement about such a reprehensible occurrence. If, indeed, one can make a statement without using words.

With very little advance publicity and only a few announcements from church pulpits, people stood up against starvation in “17 Minutes of Silence.”

Starving children in our own backyard seemed so despicable and unfathomable that we just had to do something. Some shared e-mail addresses for a free T-shirt, others signed up for duty, and still others gave donations.

After Restore Ocala’s brief introduction, we stood quietly for 1,020 seconds on a pleasant Sunday, listening to the sounds of downtown Ocala, hoping to find the pulse and the conscience of our community.

The silence was respectful and deafening. I didn’t hear a single spoken word. Not one cell phone went off. I didn’t even hear a baby cry. Cars whizzed by on the city streets and the birds chirped joyfully. And for those 1,020 seconds, I was taken back in time.

What do you think about for 17 minutes after you have said a few prayers for the less fortunate?

I thought about the sparrows.

Whenever I hear sparrows, I always think of my youth when I spent so many days at the courthouse, waiting for my mother to finish her job at the sheriff’s office. Hundreds of those little critters frittered about on the sidewalks and under the benches, foraging for crumbs. Those sparrows seemed to represent peaceful tranquility in a frenetic setting.

And they apparently always found sustenance, perhaps by God’s grace.

Back then, the courthouse was the focal point of the community and, for me, it was the center of activity for Ocala. A young boy often sat on the bench, studying the tiny birds and pondering his future. And now a man on the back nine of life was pondering his past on the same courthouse square.

Most of those sparrows are gone now—I know not where—but I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because they couldn’t find food anymore. And, if so, what are God’s plans for feeding them? And if He didn’t feed them, who would? 

Want To Know More?

Watch for the release this fall of Urban’s Way,
Buddy Martin’s authorized biography of Florida
football coach Urban Meyer.
Visit for more info.

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