A Long December

In my quest to find ways of engaging with the community and getting to know the area, I’ve volunteered to help out at a local food bank. The manager told me the place saw 50–80 people per day. While it was a bit slower than that for my first day, a steady stream of the disadvantaged did filter through during those three hours. It is one thing to read about poverty, about racism, about the impact of the pandemic upon a population that was already struggling. It is quite another to see it for yourself and to hear the stories. People living in cars, ex-cons who couldn’t nail down employment, a disturbingly high percentage of senior citizens, even a few people you’d not expect to see at a food pantry, at least judging by appearance. I can’t judge whether all the stories I heard were honest gospel or truth mixed with fiction.

One old man named Steven, who still works in maintenance and remodeling, came in because his four grandchildren were coming to visit and he didn’t have enough for them. He decorated his table and a small tree, he said, which raised his spirits. He worried about the impending winter storm slated to hit the region tomorrow, noting that the heater in his house needed a repair due to a breakdown last winter that went unfixed through summer and autumn — estimated cost: $150. He would have gotten to it, he said, but the truck needed brakes and rotors. The skirting on his trailer needed repair, and he fretted about snow getting in.

Another fellow pointed to a left knee injured years ago during service as a Marine, and spoke at length about his inability to obtain and hang onto a trucking job. In an incident outside Target years ago, he said, a man punched his wife in the eye. He retaliated against him and was then taken down by police, he said. The man who hit his wife got probation. After a confrontational hearing in front of a judge, this guy got five years. The man working alongside me asked whether the man who punched his wife was black. Our Marine, black himself, replied, “I don’t see that stuff.” That wasn’t his point, the volunteer replied. Maybe he got it easier because he was white? The Marine’s eyes got glassy as he told us that his wife, who was white, died while he was in prison, and that he lost his house and several acres in Hellam Township. He lost everything that mattered to him, he said before swallowing and moving on.

Both volunteers and visitors commented occasionally on the inability of anyone to count on the government for assistance. And a number of those drove in with Trump paraphernalia on their automobiles, which left me shaking my head.

The most prosperous nation in the world, we’re told, and so many suffering.



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