I wasn't prepared to find the same dynamic in food donations. We have a preconception of poor people in this country that assumes they want and will take any and all handouts, whether they really need them or not. In practice, I'm finding the opposite to be true. When I show up downtown with a carload of food, the first thing people do is go around hollering to the nearby camps, "There's food. Come over!" The more able-bodied of a family unit will take meals to the others in their camp before they accept some for themselves. They're extremely polite. I ask them to take more and they'll respond that they don't need more, but they know a place where it will be appreciated.
Maybe it's just Portland, the kindest place I've ever lived. But I suspect that people who have learned to live within tight limits are more appreciative of gifts and more eager to provide for other folks in the same boat. When you know suffering, you want desperately to alleviate suffering.
With the rest of the farmers' markets starting next week, I expect to have cases of fresh produce at least four days a week. If you're aware of a Washington County agency that can accept some, please contact me or them or both. Strawberries, peaches, basil, lettuce, tomatoes -- so many crops are harvesting right now, and the farmers, stores, and restaurants are very eager to share. With limited access to recipient organizations, with limited storage space, and with an overabundance of politeness, I'm getting nervous about all the food I'll be collecting. More can go downtown, of course, but we really want to help the agencies adjust to a new, fresher food model.
A lot of neighbors have been dropping off toiletries for me to pass out along with food. That gets even more awkward. It's hard for anyone to admit they need soap or lotion, let alone toilet paper or tampons. Knowing what it feels like to be on the receiving end, I feel for them. I worked hard to embrace the concept that letting someone help me is a gift to them, that they feel good about giving and I shouldn't ruin it for them by being self conscious. So true. But I can't teach that to someone else. I just have to recognize their uneasiness and connect with them as best I can, so that accepting a gift doesn't feel selfish or ungrateful on their part.
Admitting that we all have needs is hard. Letting strangers know is even harder. Our needs have to be pretty compelling to allow us to even show up at an emergency food pantry and accept free groceries, knowing that they were paid for by other regular people. I can't do it, unless I'm offering something of value in return (hence the establishment of this organization).
If we ever want to bridge the income inequality gap, if we ever want to end poverty, if we ever truly embrace kindness to one another, we have to learn to accept gifts, help, support. We have to not only love our neighbors, but also allow our neighbors to love us.