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.)


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.


jojo cucina cucina said...

First off... hahaha. love how you keep your rant 'short'.... I am the same way. I have been trying to limit my blog posts to only 500 words, but it is damn hard.

Secondly. This is a very poignant post and it nearly made me cry. Which is not something i am prone to do. But i know that kind of family you talk about. I

And i have people in my own family, the working poor, who have been in that situation. One of the reasons i used to get so damn mad at WEASO's greed. But that's a whole 'nother story.

The family you describes breaks my heart. Mostly for the 16 year old boy who knows this is not normal. I volunteer for Caring for Kids. You may have heard of it. Diane Formoso is one of the most amazing organizers i've ever seen. CFK is almost too big now for being an only volunteer organization.

But when it was just getting off the ground i remember being at the first Ready to Learn Fair where kids got new school supplies and crayons, notebooks, backpacks, etc. but the clothes were not new. Many of them came from Lost and Founds from the schools, though they were washed and sorted through. But still they were from schools.

i still remember that single mom and her teenage daughter going through the clothes. I almost cry just writing about it. The mom was trying to be so positive and helpful in finding her daughter something suitable to wear. The daughter looked mortified (as i would have been too).

I so wished i had been able to just go over to that woman and hand her a load of cash and tell her to take her daughter to Old Navy and buy her new stuff. It sort of haunts me that i never did that.

I was so used to many of the families trying to work the system, stealing clothes out the back door, taking more than they needed and having moms drive up in SUVs or be walking around on their cell phones that this woman and her daughter just stuck out.

I was the oldest of four kids with a low ranking military father and a mom who didn't work. We lived in small houses all our lives and qualified for free lunch, though my dad was too proud to ever apply (for which i'm grateful). I swear as a teenager i would rather skip lunch than be known as a kid who got free lunch. So that family you describe with that teenage boy and that teenage girl from that very first Ready to Learn Fair really resonates.


B said...

What a heartbreaking story! That spirit of a parent who is trying to make the best out of a bad situation juxtaposed against a teenager who is completely mortified at being labeled "poor."

We've been that teenager, and it's difficult to see the situation as an outsider now.

I give my mom a lot of grief, even it's just mentally, now. She grew up poor, when she was with my dad and several years after she left him, she was poor. Now she still acts like she's poor. She shops the thrift stores on $1 day. She still has her car from 1991, which is a rusty, creaky mess that has almost 300,000 miles on it. She's far from "poor" now, as she's been a diligent saver for decades on top of her second husband having substantial means. But yet she still scrimps, almost to her detriment because she sacrifices quite a bit quality of life, even having furniture she bought in 1976 in her living room still ("Brown Flowers" as I call her couch set). She's retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel but still works at age 64. I doubt she'll ever quit because she feels like she doesn't have any money. And she doesn't have any hobbies.

I think it's important to have balance: save for the future, volunteer, work (if you want), buy something nice for yourself that you really want once in a while, enjoy hobbies that make you feel more fulfilled. I wish my mom's "poor" mentality wasn't such an obstacle for her.

Sorry about the tangent. While I identify with the teenagers at our volunteer experiences, I also wonder how the moms will be forever impacted by what they're going through.

jojo cucina cucina said...

That's really interesting about your mom Beth! As a retired Army lieutenant she must have a fairly decent retirement and like many probably doesn't have much out of pocket medical expenses.

My parents still live in the 1000 sq foot house they bought when i was a senior in high school. Our family extended with spouses and kids and grandkids can't fit yet my mom ALWAYS think we need to go there. They don't like going to our homes. And since my mom lives like an almost hoarder i can't tolerate it. If my Dad dies first she will be a full blown hoarder i'm sure. My dad is meticulous in every way but gave up on the inside.

So in ways, like your mom, they still have that poor mentality.

I don't have it. I do not do lots of shopping, but when i do i try and buy the best quality and keep it for a long time. I take good care of my stuff. I don't have a lot of need for stuff since i live in my own tiny abode and i save money like i'm going to lose everything. So i have a little bit of the mentality. But i don't deny myself books, wine, Pacific Northwest vacations. I enjoy ordering a wine by the glass that costs $11 because i don't it's really good. I like buying presents for people that aren't within a budgeted amount of money. I like picking up the tab every once in awhile. But yeah when i used to get angry with my union about salaries for my own position i know i was coming from another place than most people because i never thought i would ever make so much without a college education.

And i think that comes from having a poor background.

Beth, do you see your mom very much anymore?

jojo cucina cucina said...

damn i wish i could edit comments. But i think you can figure it out!

jojo cucina cucina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B said...

I can totally see your mom's hoarding coming from that poor mentality. It sounds like you have a good balance going. You know what is important to you, and budget accordingly. :)

My mom isn't necessarily a hoarder, but she keeps a LOT and rarely gets new stuff.

Oh, get this. Her dad bought a Kirby vacuum in the late 70s. She said he paid something like $300 for it back then. The thing was a monstrosity with lots of metal, and I couldn't carry it up the stairs. Well, the thing stopped working probably in the early 90s. It made the lines on the carpet but didn't pick up much of anything. Her house always smelled dusty. When we got a new vacuum last year, I was impressed by how much it picked up. I suspected that the 35 year old Kirby wasn't working, so I went over to her house and used the Kirby on a patch. Then I used mine, and it picked up all this dirt and dust bunnies. She finally got a new vacuum after I showed her it doesn't work but she still has the Kirby too.

She lives only a few miles away. I see her every few weeks.

jojo cucina cucina said...

Hahaha I remember those big Kirby vacuums cleaners that weighed the same as a late model Buick! I thought you were going to say you took it to her house and after vacuuming it completely filled up the bag in one cleaning!