Sunday, October 14, 2007

At the Fair...

I did my stint at the community fair.

As expected, I only made a couple of referrals. But over 100 people showed up -- even with the most minimal of local publicity.

My observations of the crowd: Many -- many clients were developmentally disabled. I saw evidence of substance abuse in others. Sadly, in both cases there seemed to be an intergenerational component. And there were families just down on their luck -- a lot of younger families with lots of kids.

Some visitors were grateful for the help available. Someone had donated several cases of laundry detergent and toothpaste, and those of us with display tables had to reassure fairgoers that they could take what they needed, without cost. I was happy to see many young mothers taking multiple copies of free parenting magazines and children's books. Many people were happy to get free haircuts.

But some visitors' behavior was inexplicable. The folks helping with food distribution said that a lot of fairgoers passed up the very good food being given away -- cartons of bananas, bags of potatoes, noodles and fresh eggs, just to name a few of the groceries. "We just didn't seem to have what they wanted," noted a volunteer sadly. I could imagine my mother -- who as a child really did go hungry at the start of the Depression, until her family could get out of the city and grow some of their own food -- watching in horror as people turned down bananas and eggs: "They are not hungry. We were hungry." Other people took a bite out of the free hotdogs -- grilled, with a variety of condiments available -- and immediately tossed the rest into the trash. Oh, God, I thought, if some of our perpetually riled local taxpayers saw this, it would only underscore their contempt for the underclass -- lazy, ungrateful "welfare people."

Then again, they didn't see the woman who cried when she got her free food. Or the young girl, in grungy hand-me-down clothes, proudly sporting a new haircut. Or the mom in the wheelchair carefully balancing free kids' coats and books on her lap.

I just heard on the news this morning that social workers have one of the highest rates of depression among all employed persons. I can understand this -- the overwhelming scope of people's problems and their systemic nature, as well as some peole's resistance to, or sheer inability in, achieving independence.

I went home depressed.

And last night I dreamt that, at a family holiday gathering, one of my siblings (note: I don't have any siblings in real life) came by with twelve tiny, crying babies adopted from the developing world, all with various health problems, and just gave them to me: "They're really not that hard to take care of."


P.S. an after-thought said...

It takes all kinds, doesn't it?

In the sermon today, the 9 went to the temple without going back to thank Jesus, but maybe they said their thanks to God at the temple.

You were doing God's work yesterday in spite of everything.

Anonymous said...

I second the idea that you were doing God's work, even if you did go home depressed.

I used to work at a food pantry. We got all kinds . . . from the people who got mad because we didn't have Doritos to the people who all but clapped their hands for joy over a five-pound bag of cornmeal. When the overwhelming size of the problem and its systemic nature got me down, I just kept reminding myself of the Benedictines: "Let all visitors be received as Christ."

zorra said...

Wow. Your fairs are better than ours.

Ditto what anonymous said about working at a food pantry.

CoG said...

It can seem baffling when people turn down good stuff -- food, info, or help. I think there is growing research about cultural differences between middle and lower classes. That's what your riled up tax payers don't understand.

LutheranChik said...

And a lot of this wonderful free food assumed an ability to menu-plan and scratch-cook that, frankly, some of these people probably don't have, either due to developmental disability or substance abuse.

As I sat at my table, I kept thinking of Jesus' words, "You'll always have the poor with you." That's a concept that violates our American optimism and middle-class up-by-the-bootstraps ethic, but...IMHO there are always going to be people who simply can't make it independently. They just can't; they don't have the tools. The best we can do as a society is to help them maintain these "least of these" a decent standard of living -- adequate food, shelter, healthcare, an opportunity to do some kind of meaningful work -- and intervene in their children's lives so that their children's potential to achieve more in society isn't thwarted by their parents' limitations.

LutheranChik said...

One humorous observation about class differences: Two of the presenters at this shindig were offering free massages and opportunities for yoga instruction. I'm not kidding. I'm sorry, but someone on Medicaid who has to spend 4 hours on local rural public transportation to get to the doctor -- assuming that there IS a doctor in that particular specialty, in that area who accepts Medicaid patients (in our area the nearest Medicaid dentists are 2 counties away, which makes them inaccessible to anyone without private transportation) -- isn't going to be signing up for yoga class down at the community center. Sometimes there's a kind of mind-boggling naivete among service providers.

Verdugo said...

Even more basic than menu-planning and cooking from scratch, I've found most of the free food giveaways assume the recipient has a kitchen. In my neck of the woods, many if not most of the poor do not. They may be homeless, they may be camping out in someone's garage or a state park, they may be renting a room somewhere. But many/most do not have a fridge, oven or stove.

LutheranChik said...

Very true.

Sometimes they don't even have access to potable water. I went to a workshop once where one local single mom talked about having to live in an uninsulated hunting cabin with no indoor plumbing, and water from a hand-dug well outside that was so polluted even the dog wouldn't drink it. The kids had to go fetch water from a neighbor's pump down the road. She finally got assistance from the government, but the red tape involved was so daunting that she said she almost gave up...a caring social worker hung in there with her and finally got her enrolled in the program.