So. The little post I wrote about food shelves has gone kind of crazy. I'll be honest with you:
I'M KIND OF FREAKING OUT.
You see, I'm not used to this much attention. And you'd think this kind of thing would be a blogger's wet dream, right? Tons of hits, seeing YOUR post shared and tweeted and linked all over God's green earth (or green internet, as it stands). Comments upon comments upon comments. Bloggers are attention whores at heart (don't deny it, girls) so one would conclude that this is just the bee's knees.
Well. It is, and it isn't.
It IS because, hell yeah! It's totally validating to see something that tumbled out of my head and onto a keyboard being read by so many people. Not only read, but LIKED. I keep getting emails and messages from women sharing their stories, telling me about how they ended up in the parking lot of a food shelf, willing themselves the strength to walk in there and do what had to be done. My favorites are from the feisty chicks in their 60's and 70's, who blazed the trails for me and my single mama sisters and raised families on their own back in the day. One thing in particular that I love about these ladies? They use the word "bullshit" a lot. I'm so looking forward to being the ballsy, silver-tressed gramma who wears funky scarves and says "bullshit" a lot.
It ISN'T because it's scary to have a few thousand new sets of eyeballs reading my stuff. When it's just my "regulars" here, it's like we're all sitting in my living room, curled up on the couch and gabbing. Now I kind of feel like I need to vacuum. And maybe put on my good yoga pants.
Obviously the things I wrote about in "Those People" touched folks. And that prompted them to share it, a lot. Which is great. Hopefully eyes have been opened, some prejudices have been dropped, and hearts have been softened. I know many people have mentioned that they've gone shopping for their local food shelves, which of course is wonderful. Every little bit helps.
The post wasn't about what kinds of foods are appropriate for donation. I know I mentioned quinoa and artichoke hearts and tapenade, but I didn't want those (delicious) items to be the focus of the story.
People have been asking, though, so here's some advice about what to give: donate what you can. Please check expiration dates. Fresh=good. Call ahead and see if your local food shelf has a freezer or refrigerated section. If they do? Give 'em some meat. A couple fryer chickens, some ground beef. Fresh dairy products are awesome too. I remember almost soiling myself when I walked in there one time and saw GALLONS of milk. I have four teenagers, yo. That stuff is like gold. If what you usually donate is mac and cheese? Cans of soup or vegetables? PERFECT. It's all good. People who end up at food shelves just need something edible to put on the table. Trust me, if your family is hungry, you make do with what you have.
Another thing to consider donating: toiletries. Deodorant. Toothpaste/brushes/floss. Lotion. SOAP. Toilet paper. Tampons. Pads. Q-tips. Shampoo/conditioner. I'll never forget having fumes in my checking account and then *BOOM* it was period time. You know what sucks? Having to spend $6.00 on a box of tampons when you have $10.00 to your name. Help a bloated, crampy lady out!
I wanted to write about how I felt that day in the hallway of my school. We really don't know squat about the people we encounter in our day to day routines. We don't know who is struggling with unseen health issues, who's dealing with relationship strife or wrestling with demons big and small. "Folder Lady" is not a bad person. I do regret using the word bitch in my imaginary tirade against her, the one I'd never really act out in a million years. I used her as a figurative punching bag for all the little comments and offhand remarks I've heard over the past couple of years, things that have made me bristle for just a moment here and there. For that, I'm sorry.
The only thing she was guilty of was assuming that I was her socioeconomic equal. That when the topic of who uses food shelves came up, she and I were on the same side. She assumed I was part of the US in "Us and Them". Which isn't the case, obviously. If we were Sneetches, I'd totally be the one without a star on thar. Or with. Whichever.
I wanted to tell you all about it because I learned something that day. We hear warnings to not judge books by covers, to be aware that appearances don't tell the whole story...but that day I learned those things up close and personal.
You don't look at me, and my kids, and think "They're poor." We wear decent clothes, some have been purchased second hand, some have been gifts from generous grandparents and friends, and yes, some are from REAL stores, hoity-toity ones like Target and Old Navy. I'm the mom in the stands at the hockey game. My son Henry is the kid ringing you up at the grocery store. You might have seen my daughter walking our dog around the block. We look pretty much like everyone else here in the good old suburbs of Minneapolis. You just never know.
One thing I have learned from the response is this: poorness and hunger and need is epidemic in our country. Yes, it's obvious in some places. There are people living in the streets, filling up homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
In other places, it's not so obvious. The poor walk next to us on the crowded sidewalks, they drive past us in the carpool lane, they sit next to us in churches and synagogues. They are in the next checkout lane at the grocery store; you'd never guess that they are holding their breath, waiting to see if their debit card goes through or if it will be declined. Your child probably plays with their child on the playground.
One of them might even be waddling down the hallway of your neighborhood school, ogling the loot in the food drive bins.
All of us live here together. We share the same air, the same ground. Our bodies operate the same whether we have a million dollars or just a couple. Some of us have better haircuts, nicer houses, newer cars or cooler gadgets, but deep down...way down where it really matters...
we aren't so different. We want our kids to be healthy and happy and have full tummies. We want a roof over our heads, a warm place to sleep. We want to earn our keep, to be productive members of society. We all want to get through the day, close our eyes and then face the next one with hope and optimism.
And sometimes, dammit...sometimes we want quinoa.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your comments and emails and messages. I promise you, I'm going to answer each one of them if I haven't already, I just need a day without work, kids and laundry...so expect a reply in about four years :). And a huge thank you to Jill Smokler, aka Scary Mommy, not only for sharing my essay but for all she's doing to help struggling families at Thanksgiving. Jill, you rock.