Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Food Drive

"Sorry what was that?" I asked, dropping to my knees to force some more cans into her gray nylon bag.
"69... that was my first Thanksgiving." She smiled nervously, as me and the other young do-gooders fussed around with UHT milk and double-bagged turkeys.
"It's actually going to be my first Thanksgiving," I said, which was a lie that didn't really matter, since she didn't really seem to be listening.
"I worked for the government, you know. Me and my husband both did." She had the kind of subcontinent lilt I associate more with East London than with Manhattan, and her voice was low and quick, needlessly apologetic. "Such a lot of food."
"Yes, will you be able to carry it ok? Do you want to leave some and come back or..." I tailed off, not knowing for sure what would happen after our shift left at 11.
"You know I used to do this," the lady said, gesturing to the boxes of cans and pie crusts, "I used to help out in the holidays. We go to this church. But then my husband got sick, and I lost my job..."
We clucked, helplessly, looking at the floor.
"It's such a hard time for a lot of people at the minute," I managed, and she just sighed and heaved the extra plastic bags onto her shoulder.
"Have a good Thanksgiving."
"You too. Goodbye. Happy Thanksgiving!" we chorused until the lift came to take her and her non-perishables away.

The next person was an oriental woman in her sixties who flinched when the young white male helper tried to hand over her turkey. Again, her cart was soon overwhelmed by the volume of packets and cans that the schoolboys had collected for her. All the while she muttered under her breath, only letting out firm "no!"s when we tried to take things out of her bag to put the heavy stuff at the bottom, and a breathless "thankyougoodbye" when she left.

"Must be a story there," the worker said after she'd gone, and I shrugged, not really wanting to think about it.

Intellectually I know it's a great and godly thing to give all these people, 200 local families in all, a decent Thanksgiving, but when I was taking the subway back all I could think of was how these women looked when they left the church, bent double with the weight of 1 x pkt rice OR pasta, 2 x shelf-stable milk, 1 x pkt mashed potatoes (instant), 2 x can of soup (any flavour), 1 x frozen turkey (small) and of our easy breezy charity.

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