The Have-Nots

Naive, I willingly admit to being, but he seemed just like just another the rest of us volunteers, at the  Food Bank.   He is usually there when I am, Monday and Wednesdays, noon until closing time.  We are members of the Accounting department, along with about a dozen others.   A few of us are the spouses of landed immigrants with work visas, which prohibits us from earning an income of our own.  Others are retirees, looking for a way to give back that is somewhat more challenging than most roles.

It is from the final category that Jeff is from.  Able bodied adults that need to receive food from the food bank are asked to ‘earn’ their food, by volunteering in one of the many departments that compares the food bank.  This also serves to make these individuals feel like the ‘earned’ what they receive, as opposed to just getting a handout.

One of the small acknowledgements we received from the food bank, as a “thank-you for your help” included a pen and an oven mitt.  I took mine home, as did most others, but one of the mitts has stayed around for the past few weeks, seemingly unwanted.

Tina frets about that.  She is the manager of the accounting area, supervising an almost entirely volunteer department.  I don’t know why this hanger-on oven mitt is upsetting her so, especially since I’m sure that she has all of the background information on ALL of us.

This afternoon, as the day was waning, I decided to make myself a cup of cocoa.   As I returned to the office area with my steamy double-cupped cup of chocolate, I encountered Jeff, who had just returned from the file room, bringing another box  for us to go through.  He gazed at my beverage longingly, but since I knew that I had taken the last one, I offered him half.  I never finish a full cup, so….  He gratefully accepted the drink, sat down at the work table, and said that he had something to tell me.

When I had innocently asked him earlier if he owned or rented his home, and he said ‘neither’.  I took that to mean that he was living with his mom, who calls the food bank to check up on him periodically.  But that was not the case.  While gazing at his hands, he very quietly told me that he is homeless.

He then went on to describe how he really doesn’t understand how some of the other homeless people manage from day to day, without proper coats or shoes, or any other necessities for surviving  a totally outdoor existence.  Even here, in (almost) perpetually sunny California, we get some cold snaps.  Three days last week featured frost, sprinkled on rooftops, and solidifying birdbaths.  According to the weatherman, we are about to endure downpours of epic proportions, complete with flood and landslide warnings.

Our VERY community minded neighborhood association is currently collecting sleeping bags, tents, tarps, warm coats, hats and gloves, for the homeless youth in the area.  I don’t know why they are specifically targeting the youth, but I suppose that the homelessness is so overwhelming that it would be too much for the group to take on in its entirety.

At the Santa Clara Senior’s Center, where I also volunteer as a gym monitor, Christmas means that the Angel Tree is up.  Multiple tags hand on this tree, each with a description of a person that would appreciate a Christmas gift.  Many are children who were suggested by social services, but there are also others.  Some seniors with no family left to provide them with presents are there, as well as some developmentally disabled adults, as well as some homeless citizens.  This year, I chose a homeless senior man, who asked for a warm coat OR some warm socks.  I got him a fleece lined jacket, AND some wool socks, AND a toque.

When I go back to the food bank on Wednesday, I hope to be able to chat with Jeff again, and find out what items were most needed.  We still have all of the hats, scarves and gloves from our winters in Canada, so we’ll part with those.  I can’t solve ALL of the problems, but I like to think that I can at least to something.

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