Thursday, July 24, 2014

A couple rants and Casserole Kitchen

This post was going to be a rant. I haven't ranted in a while here. Let me still do my rant...I'll make it short...pretty please?

1. Pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, "parties" where people sell you crap you don't need or want and THEY usually end up in the hole because some company convinced them that they could get rich quick and made them buy a whole bunch of inventory that they can't offload.

No, I don't want to buy your crappy stuff. If I buy your crappy stuff even out of pity, then it will just reinforce this idiotic idea that you can sell stupid item X for $40 (of which, $35 goes to the company and the people in the pyramid higher than my friend) when I can go to Target and buy it for $5 if I actually wanted it. But since I don't want stupid item X, it's really a moot point.

2. People who do not have a handicapped sticker and stalk the closest parking spaces at Costco. You could probably insert any number of stores, but for some reason I really only notice the parking lot stalkers at Costco. I park my car as far away from everyone as possible--it's not that I don't want to get it dinged or anything. I am just fundamentally lazy, and stalking parking lots takes way too much work. I'd rather just walk and save the time. (Yes, it's faster to just park at the end and walk vs. trying to navigate those parking aisles.)

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Today was my Casserole Kitchen (my nickname for it) volunteer night. Once a month I volunteer at a church (not my church) that offers a meal for anyone who wants to come. The intent is to provide those with little means with a "nourishing" meal in a pleasant environment. I guess it's a soup kitchen that mainly serves casseroles. I still haven't tried the food, but most of it looks kind of yucky. White sauce (that I know isn't alfredo) or canned cheese sauce over pasta/rice with a token canned vegetable. Even when there's meat, it's a meat that I won't touch (stew meat, ham, pulled pork).

My job is a greeter, and I do the statistics. It's not particularly hard work, but it's detail-oriented--capturing data on each person who comes in. Many guests are regulars, and after doing it for six months, I know them--they have nicknames I gave them initially (e.g., Tree Guy, who talks about trees like Bubba Gump talked about shrimp) and that evolved into their real names, but I use the nicknames with people outside of the volunteer group.

Usually, I'm a very curious person, but I tend not to ask the guests many questions. I guess I'm afraid of the responses. Some of them likely have apartments and just come to be social. Others...I don't know. One guy parks his shopping cart full of his worldly possessions outside the door.

I asked one guy how he was doing today. Most of these people have a very tough life, but they are optimistic. He said, "I woke up dry, so that was a blessing." Someone had given him a tent before the rainstorm. Those who wake up dry every morning don't often think of that blessing.

This volunteer gig gives me so much perspective. I go into the evening thinking of the 30 things on my to-do list, work stuff, worrying about my daughter (i.e., how bad am I screwing her up?), and then I am humbled by these people. I need that reality check and probably need it far more often than I get it.

There were a LOT of kids there tonight. 11 kids...usually there's none or one or two. My mom and I were poor for the first six or so years of my life. She took me to one Christmas event for poor kids, and I remember getting an ET doll from the Santa at the event. We had WIC for a year or two. But to my knowledge she never took me to a place like this. I would have remembered.

I sit by the front door as a greeter. I can see the whole room, but I tend to watch those that sit directly in front of me. I can overhear that table's conversations. I watch them eat as I sign in other people. At that table last month there was a guy hitting on a woman, which was interesting to watch (she turned him down) but sad to watch at the same time.

Today there was a woman with her four kids at that table. This was the first time her family had been to Casserole Kitchen. She told me that she just got laid off, and it was great that she and her kids could come eat. She was so nice and polite; her kids were too. You could see that this is what the church intended--families down on their luck could get some food and not worry about their necessities while they figure out their job situation.

She had what looked like a 5 year old boy, a 7 year old girl, a 10 year old girl and a 16 year old boy. The 16 year old boy looked uncomfortable about the whole thing (as I would have been as a teenager); he refused the main dish but had two servings of dessert. The three other kids cleaned their plates of the tuna casserole (with canned nacho cheese sauce...ick), salad, corn and jello. Mom cleared her plate. They were about to leave, and I told him that seconds would be served soon. The family, minus the teenage son, became excited. The kitchen volunteers ended up giving her 7 additional plates of food in tupperware to take home. The mom was so appreciative. Seeing this family light up over having food for the next day or two was a double-edged sword: happy but sad at the same time. You could see that the kitchen volunteers were taken aback by this family's appreciation and manners. They came out with loaves of bread for them (the good bread too). But the mom said she picked up three loaves at the food pantry, and that would tide them over. This family wasn't greedy.

While I hope everyone at Casserole Kitchen gets on their feet, this family has a special place in my heart. I wanted to ask the mom what kind of work she does; maybe I can pull some strings?? Maybe if I see her next time, I will ask.

There are a few people there that are *interesting*. Some with mental illness, some with likely drug/alcohol problems. I spoke with one guy tonight with dark brown front teeth. Seriously, they were one shade away from black. And they weren't just dark brown; there was stuff protruding from them as if they had some contagious disease. I wanted to ask, "Do your teeth have gangrene?" or advise him to see a dentist. But let's be honest, he has NEVER had dental insurance nor has he ever seen a dentist. Who knows if they are that way due to neglect, a drug problem or maybe it's just really bad genetics.