Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy the Food Pantry

On Friday, I was helping out at the amazing River Food Pantry. The host a community meal every Friday night and open the food pantry up to anyone who needs extra food.

When I walk into the country club in my neighborhood, I instantly feel uncomfortable and uninvited. When I walked into The River, I feel welcomed, respected and valued. It is a true gem in our community. Just being near passionate, committed, dedicated people like the founders (Andy and Jenny Czerkas) restores my faith in humanity.

It was a busy Friday. I think close to 200 families came through for dinner and groceries.

Off to the side, there was a table with two wonderful volunteers who were there to register people to vote. Wisconsin just recently passed some restrictive voter-ID laws and I suspect many of the population in attendance on Friday probably do not have adequate identification for the new voting process.

But they didn't get a lot of action at their table. They basically sat for most of the night, just talking to each other. I think that maybe two or three people came to take their information. Meanwhile, the rest of us were working our tails off trying to manage the feeding/grocery procuring process.

I respect the message that the political groups forming "Occupy Wall Street" and "Recall Walker" are promoting. I admire their tenacity in gaining signatures and staging protests. I'm glad they were there on Friday and I'm glad that more people are now educated on the voting requirements.

But I think the message of the Occupy Wall Street and Recall Walker groups would be a lot stronger if they combined some action with their rhetoric. What if they came to the food pantry to register voters AND brought 20 volunteers with them to help? What if they collected signatures for recall AND collected canned goods to donate to those in need?

At one point in the night, a lovely woman who could have been me - same age, same height, same race, same jeans - came through the line. She looked at me in confusion and said "I've never been here before, I'm not sure how it all works." I told her "I'm pretty new here too, but everyone is so nice and helpful, we'll figure it out together." We instantly connected and smiled at each other and I'm fairly sure we both had the slight hint of tears welling in our eyes.

It didn't matter who was the volunteer or who needed the food or what anyone's religion or politics were. Andy and Jenny and all the other amazing employees/volunteers at the River have created a community where neighbors help neighbors and everyone wins.

There is no "99%" there. We, all of us, are the 100% and everyone is treated with love and respect. As much as I love reading all the "I am the 99%" signs, I can't help but wonder if maybe we could *all* combine a little more action with our eloquently worded signs.

Except for the hilarious one with the 2% milk. That sign can stay.

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