Monday, August 11, 2014

Free Food

I remember volunteering at the local Urban Ministries food pantry in high school, and it was clear to us, we were the rich, white kids from western Greensboro, helping out those unfortunate people, not like us. Over the years I've continued to volunteer in other capacities, most recently with Serve The City in Brussels Belgium. My perception of poverty has changed, and unlike my privileged youth, I've recently found myself as a student, between degrees with a very tight budget. So when a local non-profit organization recently offered free food to anyone, and we had more time than money last Thursday, I took my privileged white ass to stand in line for Out of the Garden's mobile food truck. There's no shame for me in surviving these last few weeks up till graduate school, becoming a part of less privileged. I'm poor and I'm quite humble about all of it, though there is some sort of statement to be made about a recent UNCG graduate with honors and a double minor, not being able to find a summer job in Greensboro.

Shannon, who is also an UNCG student recently participated in a round-table discussion on why local students do not remain in Greensboro after graduation this past spring. The result of these inquiries was that there are no jobs for college graduates. While attending UNCG it was commonly known, and repeated by the entire student body, that "you go to school in Greensboro, and work somewhere else". I have a degree in International Global Studies in Affairs and Development, exactly where would I work in Greensboro and make a livable wage? 17K a year working for a proselytizing ministry is not my idea of a rewarding career or a livable wage.

Considering my background, I found it interesting as I stood in line for 3-4 hours in the baking sun that the demographic of people with me was mostly minorities. I was one of about ten white people out of 200 waiting. I felt saddened by this, my gut ached, and my head confused how inequality runs rampant in Greensboro (it may have been the heat). The unemployment rate for the area is 9.4% (as of June 2013, down from a recent 12%), the homeless rate is  14% (student homelessness is up 48%) [via The State of Homelessness in America] . If you don't keep track of these indicators on a regular basis, let me assure you, that these numbers are high, very high. Despite these numbers, I can assure you that you need to only stand in one of these massively long lines for food to realize how bad the problem is.

So Wednesday night, WFMY and WGHP advertised that the Out of The Garden Project had 2,000 pounds of free food to give away to anyone. Unfortunately they reported the wrong address for pickup, and failed to mention that the organization is for families with kids (yes, I have two). Despite this, upon arriving a half hour early, there was a line of more than 200 people (many with children). Immediately, the three volunteers for the organization asked about half the individuals to leave and return the next day, apologizing that it wasn't their idea to post it on TV.  We chose to remain for the duration of the disbursement which slowly lasted about four hours. About half way into the wait, a woman fell over and about died. 911 was called and she was removed from the line. At the time, local newscasters were on site (for other reasons), and filmed the incident. It was spun on the 6 o'clock news as a woman who had heat-stroke because of the heat (rather than about poverty). Considering that many of the people who I stood in line with me that day were former residents of the Heritage House, I find the trivializing of what went on that day by local media, a sad commentary on what's wrong with Greensboro.

In the end, we, like the other hundred or so lucky people, received two bags of groceries: a few pounds of non-profit beef, a half dozen can goods, a bag of flour, and expired Food Lion perishables. I'm not even sure if the later of that is even legal. We were completely grateful, and were glad to go home and cure our sunburn and dehydration.

We learned that several of the local schools, within food deserts (no grocery stores) or impoverished areas, receive a list of available food give-outs, and pantries.  Unfortunately, this organization does not list the information on their website, but according to several people we met that day, does serve this location on Merritt Drive commonly.

I hope to continue to give back what I've taken, and encourage others to give too. Remember, there's really only a thin line between the haves and have-nots, and one day you might be on the side of that line.