In an effort to get involved in my new community and meet some of its inhabitants, I signed to volunteer with a local agency under whose umbrella many of the local volunteer based organizations run. Once an application is completed, you attend a one-on-one with the volunteer coordinator where your assets as well as your interests are determined. Amazed to find I had several usable talents (who knew?), I was given an extensive list of opportunities from which to choose. As an aside when I mentioned to my mother plans were to take this on she said, “try not to do anything depressing like work in a hospital or places that are sad”. Adore that woman. I assured her I’d only choose upbeat groups featuring clowns and soft bunnies to affiliate myself with. No point in wasting volunteer hours on people in need or not of good cheer. Truthfully though, I tease about my mom, but she is generous of herself and her time and has always given back to her community. In the past she visited shut-ins or the elderly in the evenings, always bringing a casserole or lingering to play a game of Scrabble. These days she shuttles ladies who no longer drive to the market for groceries or to run whatever errands they need to accomplish.
While reviewing my options, I checked many boxes signing up for everything from grizzly bear scat gathering to rhino tusk polishing. Before leaving the office I was assured representatives of the agencies I’d shown interest in would contact me by the end of the week. By the time I arrived home, the first call was on the answering machine. The need for volunteers to man these organizations is great. I have volunteered a time or two previously over the years, but most of my life I’ve worked a full-time job. Not an excuse, well maybe an excuse. When not at work, in my younger days at least, I was engaged as chauffeur, chief bottle washer, laundress, dog walker, cat feeder, and personal shopper for two kids, one husband and the parasitical menagerie we loosely referred to as our “pets”. Between soccer games, school events, skating lessons, and dental appointments there wasn’t much wiggle room for other more altruistic activities. If I found time for a shower and enjoyed toilet privileges I considered myself totally spoiled.
One of the groups I was particularly interested in associating myself with this time was the local food bank. Although small in scale in comparison to people dealing with survival every day, I have some experience in what it feels like to be hungry or without a roof over your head. The place in question was Longview, Washington thankfully late summer. My husband at the time and I arrived in town to begin a ten month job at one of the lumber mills. Unbeknownst to us, the job had been postponed three weeks. Traveling light, including our wallets, we brought with us personal items, the minimum necessary clothes, a case of Vienna sausage, twenty cheese and beef sticks, a box of Saltines, three gallon bottles of soda, a six-pack of Bud Light and a case of bottled water. The essentials. Young, we perceived ourselves at the time as gypsies, free and blithe of spirit. Not having enough funding or good sense to retrace our tracks or explore other options, and too much pride to call our parents, we chose instead to wait it out. Our plan was to get a hotel room once a week during the twenty-one days, leaving the rest of the nights and days either to be spent in the car or in local parks. Food would become an issue. I like a Vienna sausage with the best of them, but for every meal?
After the first week, our days fell into a routine. Mornings we showed up at a rest stop offering showers, donuts, and coffee gratis to weary travelers. As a belated thank you to the ranger stationed there, the woman never once made mention of how many times we seemed to be traveling past the same spot, always handing us a steaming cup of hot coffee and a fresh donut with a smile and without question. The public shower there was not my favorite, but I availed myself of it shoes in place. Sharing a small space can quickly take the bloom off the rose if you have to keep the windows down in order to tolerate each others presence. After several times showering at the rest stop, we chose instead to drive up into the heavily forested areas to take a dip in the prolific ponds or wade in quick-moving streams to freshen up. The water was cold, but far less of an exchange of germs than the rest stop. I found it somewhat glorious, actually, bathing there. Very Adam and Eve. Afternoons were spent in the park or by the lake, and nights wherever we could park safely.
Enjoying a steady diet of Vienna sausage saltine sandwiches, it was easy to see this would soon become redundant. My digestive track was loudly protesting the lack of roughage coming down the chute. On accident during the last week I discovered our gasoline credit card also covered items purchased in the convenience store, something we never considered. Scanning the shelves avariciously we stocked up on apples, bread, peanut butter, cans of pork and beans (might I suggest not the best choice for close surroundings), orange juice and bananas.
We dined under the stars along a side road off the interstate later in the day. Bed came early with our only source of light a flashlight. Finding it difficult to sleep with my husband’s incessant concerto tuning up in the front seat, I got out to stretch my legs. Flashlight switched on, I hiked to the crest of a nearby hill. Aiming the light at the shadowy pasture below me, I was surprised to discover a number of soupy brown bovine eyes captured in my beam eying me back with idle curiosity . Scanning the light back and forth, mottled shapes appeared, standing or lying along the hillsides. Low moans echoed across the field. Releasing them from inspection, I sat on the hill in the deep quiet only night can make, until sounds of gravel crunching behind me alerted me someone else was in the area. At the car, an officer of enough stature to be Smokey the Bear and appearing to be wearing his hat stepped out of his cruiser, and approached me. Identifying himself he explained he was following up on a report made by the rancher owning the property about suspected cattle rustlers. Studying me, he requested my ID. Shifty eyes, on my father’s side. I complied, reaching across my husband nudging him awake. He repeated his request to my other half now peering out of the window looking like an unmade bed and scratching his head. Returning to his vehicle the officer checked us out for wants and warrants or whatever they check people out for. Apparently reassured we were not criminal masterminds or concealing a devious plan to cram all the cows in our trunk and abscond with them across the border, he returned our paperwork suggesting we mosey on down the road. So, we moseyed. It was a long three weeks.
It is humiliating and humbling to find yourself in such a place. For me it was over before it started and my normal existence resumed, but for some adults and children it does not. One thing is for sure, I never ate another Vienna sausage and I am rarely short on T.P.
This is Hunger Awareness Month. Check out what people are doing to help on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Interfaith-Food-Ministry/155749367813411. SNAP, originally food stamps, provides families needing subsidy for food $4.50 a day per person. If you’ve been to the market lately that barely covers a loaf of bread. If you have any low cost recipes you’d like to share, I’ll pass them on.
While your checking them out check out this recipe for tortellini salad, liked it a lot.
1 pkg. frozen three cheese tortellini
8 rounds of hard salami, quartered
1 can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
3 cups baby spinach, rinsed and broken up
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used yellow)
Cook tortellini according to package directions. Rinse well, drain, and allow to cool.
Add all other ingredients to large bowl. When pasta has cooled add to mixture. Toss with dressing 1/2 hour before serving.
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup EV olive oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. celery seed
Place ingredients in sealed jar and shake well to blend. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Pour over tortellini mix, toss well and serve.