Opportunities to help frequently come in such ordinarypackages that it’s easy to let these precious moments slip through our capable fingers:
How manytimes has someone tried to hand youa flier on your way into a grocery store? How do you respond? Do you takeit and read it, or perhaps transfer it to the nearest trash bin? Do you simply give an unreceptive “no thanks,”using your hand as a fleshy barrier between you and what you assume to be anunsolicited marketing ploy? But what if itweren’t just a pushy attempt to get you to fill out another Sam’s Clubapplication form? What if it were, forexample, a list of basic food items that families across your community urgentlyneed but cannot afford? Would thatchange your knee-jerk reaction?
This past weekend,Northern Virginia community members had a chance to do something for a cause byparticipating in “Stuff the Bus”– a Fairfax County initiative to collectdonations for the most vulnerable citizens in the area: those living in poverty.
Food for Others, a local nonprofit, maintains that while NorthernVirginia is regarded as one of the nation’s most prosperous areas, the regionhas a poverty rate of about 5%. While that number may sound inconsequential,this equates to 90,000 poverty-stricken people living in NorthernVirginia. What’s more, an astonishing 30%of that number is made up of children. This brings us to a tragic reality: Over 25,000 helpless kids are livingin socioeconomic distress in this exceptionally wealthy jurisdiction. Still sound inconsequential?
The “Stuff the Bus” event was held at a Giant Food Store inthe distant and incredible land of McLean, Virginia, where massive castles linegolden streets, where dogs the size of rats wear crowned jewels and velvet robes,and where 6-year-old children have iPhone’s surgically implanted into theirhands. iPhone’s are just a modern day riteof passage.
The Giant parking lot was ironically tiny, and had troubleholding the hoards of luxury cars, all competing for a front-row spot. The sky was misting, that barely-there rainthat will totally negate any hair product you attempted to use before leavingthe house, and the ladies had to be extra mindful not to have their perfect tressesmessed with. Now are we clear whythese front row spots were in such high demand?
A gaggle of geeky tweens were manning the front doors withunimpressive authority, timidly trying to hand out pieces of neon pink paper. The poor kids were so unsure of themselvesthat they couldn’t even stutter “hi ma’am” without either drooling all overthemselves or breaking out into nervous hives.
The neon paper that was so readily being dismissed was aninventory of essential items that were needed to replenish the community’s foodpantries. It was a roster full of simpleitems that are usually taken for granted. Things like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise: staples for hamburgerlovers, who will gratuitously and instinctively drench their quarter-pounders inas much sauce as they can. But askcountless families across Northern Virginia, and these commonplace condimentsare considered a scarce indulgence.
The store was packed like a family station wagon, readyingfor retreat. It was filled to the brim withpeople, yet no one was talking to each other! Most people shuffled from aisle to aisle without so much as a glance atanother human being. Is the Zombie Apocalypse upon us already!?
Most people didn’t have a CLUE what the pink papers were,and might not have cared anyway. Like“long multicolored fur coat lady,” who was obviously aging and in denial, withdyed blonde hair that more closely resembled straw than locks. She and her rigid husband were stifflypushing an over-flowing cart, full of frivolity: Ten pairs of shoelaces, themost expensive coffee in the store, and most importantly, refrigerated dogfood. God forbid Fifi goeswithout her gourmet meals!
Giant provides 6 types of carts for shoppers to conveniently choose from:
* There was a tiny green cart for 3-year-oldchildren whose parents allow them to do their own shopping. Forget teaching them manners andkindness; just teach them how to grocery shop!
* There was a smaller cart made for an adult whoonly needs a few things. The handheld baskets are too laborious.
* There was a basket on wheels that shoppers couldtow behind them. Very wagon-like.
* There was a normal sized cart… complete with a cup holder, in which sat a Venti Starbucks drink forevery 2 out of 3 people.
* There was even a cool gadget (a portable scanner) at the front door thatallowed you to completely control your shopping experience by price-checkingall of the items. Price tags don’t exist anymore?
Do I need to continue?
It was painfully clear that the masses, on the whole, were completely consumed inself-indulgent, self-fulfilling behaviors, and they seemed to be completely outof touch with one another.
Ironic, don’t ya think, given the context of thecircumstance. All of this glamor, allof this glitz, all of this MONEY, yet outside stood a group of young volunteers, some ofwhom might struggle with poverty, but who had little way of reaching the peoplewho have the means to support their noble cause, and sadly have absolutely nowillingness to acknowledge it. Ignorance is bliss.
On a brighter note, there was about a third of the shoppers had that pink paper in theirhands, and were intently focused onfulfilling the rations spelled out for them. These special few were the only people smiling and making eye contactwith one another. They, collectively, werea compassionate and considerate breath of fresh air.
Best part of the event: Overhearing a mother asked her [about] 4-year-old son,“Do you know why we are here?”
To whichhe replied, “To help people and do the right thing.”
And THAT is where change starts.
“Sometimes a man imagines that he will lose himself if he gives himself, and keep himself if he hides himself. But the contrary takes place with terrible exactitude.” –Ernest Hello