Category Archives: charity

Monday, June 29, 2009

Boston is under a general strike.  The call is to shut the city down all this week.

Not a huge difference in my life since I don’t have a steady job to show up at, but it does mean that we’re going to have to use a bit more reserves here and there to get through the week.

So far, the strike seems to be pretty hit-or-miss.  A lot of the poorer folks are going to work regardless of what Radio Free Boston or CoL flyers tell them to do.  More middle-class folks are calling this their vacation week, thus having it both ways.

The place that seems to be having the biggest effect, at least according to the radio, is construction.  Over the past week a bunch of the major boulevards, bridges, tunnels, and rail-lines in the city have been damaged.  Sometimes it seems to be little fire-fights that happened to take place in strategic spots – other times it’s just that things are suddenly broken.  For most Boston locals, this is annoying, but we just go around on our scooters or bicycles or our feet.  It’s the BackWater Hummers and National Guard deuces that can’t get through.

Now the local construction folks, both public and private, aren’t rolling.

Neve is still busy though.  The network of soup kitchens and emergency meal centers that she was plugged into have stopped being emergency.  In Boston today, those church basements are the communal kitchens for the whole neighborhood.  Nobody can afford to eat alone anymore.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

I’d always thought of food riots as something ancient Rome’s days of ‘bread and circuses‘ or maybe bad distopian scifi movies like Running Man.  News out of Moscow, Minsk, and St. Petersburg are showing how wrong that idea is.  The old saying that April is the cruelest month has nothing to do with dank rain or late-season snow; the cruelty lies in the fact that winter food reserves are running low.  Just as the earth is waking, people are starving.

OK, all the pundits are blaming the conditions in Russia (and Belarus) on Medvedev’s asinine agricultural policies (or if you are more conspiracy-minded, Putin’s policies to get Medvedev recalled and himself back in place as President).  But it isn’t just that.  The prices for basic grains (maize, wheat, sorghum, soya) have more than quadrupled in the past two years.  The rising costs of oil are hurting not just the transportation, but the fertilizers and pesticides that make crops grow in the modern world. The big push for ethanol here in the US and in the EU is pulling more crops out of the food supply.  Meanwhile, China is buying up more of the world’s feed crops to feed their more affluent populace meet and milk instead of grains and vegetables.

I’ve certainly seen our grocery bill going up.  Between food and health insurance, there’s no way my pay increases are going to keep meeting the increase in our monthly costs.  And don’t even get me started on the looming education bills for April in another 16 years or so.  All we can do is tighten belts.

Luckily we have a fair amount of fat to trim.  I keep noticing the growing numbers of panhandlers in the train stations and on street corners downtown.  These aren’t the same folks I’ve gotten used to seeing, selling Spare Change and calling us ‘sir’ and ‘nice lady’.  These aren’t even the vets who have claimed some of the islands in the Esplanade as their own.  These folks are better dressed, and yet much ruder, crueler, angrier.  I saw one college girl leaving the Park Street T station crying with a man yelling after her “Bitch can afford her fukin’ Jimmmy Choos but can’t give anything for my kids!”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I almost never actually interact with the homeless. That time I had to pick up kids and drive them to emergency shelters was an exception. I make blankets and I cook and I do other things, but I rarely actually talk with them. Or even see them.

Mostly this is a factor of April. I’m a stay-at-home mom and toddlers and homeless people usually don’t mix. Especially not around Somerville, which has a non-trivial drug problem.  And I don’t have tons of time to spend getting to know the “clients”, learning the politics and tricks of dealing with such a varied population.

And, as Hal, one of my friends at the local shelter, said, “Neve, you’re a bit… much.”

But I got a call last night asking for my help — not with money or food or anything, but to actually serve food. The flu wiped out the staff altogether and they had huge gaps in their coverage. So I dropped April off at Vicki’s for a few hours, donned an apron, and served pasta and bean soup with bread and salad to the homeless for lunch today. Cupcakes for dessert. I’ve done this a handful of times before and I really have to admit, I didn’t like it. There’s a reason I only lasted one afternoon as a waitress at A.C. Peterson’s.

Today was no exception. I didn’t like it. But I noticed something today.

Took me a while to get over my general crankiness to notice it, but finally it dawned on me, after the tenth guy younger than me came through the line, that we had a different demographic than I was used to. The guy who made me sort of sit up was pointing at the soup and said “rope” a couple of times. I frowned and gave him some soup — it was good soup, I made it myself, cannelini beans and hot sausage make it really good — and then he pointed at the bread and said “money.”

“Oh, aphasia,” I blinked. I know about aphasia from Doonesbury and that episode of House with the bipolar guy.  He was about 25, I’d guess, with a patch of white hair on the side of his head that made him look older. I guessed, but didn’t ask, that he had a head trauma.

He nodded and we managed to figure out that he wanted tea, not coffee with his dinner and I sort of startled myself out of a funk and started noticing the unusual folks coming through the lines. Youngish guys without hands or legs. Several with stammering or halting speech. A couple that just looked really stoned, even though it was the early shift.

I asked Hal about it. He told me that apparently the veteran’s system just got massive cuts last fall and a lot of these guys were in various hospitals until then. Then the gov’t kicked ’em out. Somehow I totally missed this in the news — apparently it was right before the Halloween attacks and the reporting got lost in that tidal wave. Still, there were a lot of them.

Hal said that apparently there’s a guy — The Colonel, they call him — who is organizing the vets and he’s doing it here in Boston. There’s been a slow but significant increase in homeless and marginal vets — mostly with disabilities — showing up around the city. Which, of course, has put even more of a strain on the soup kitchens. But it explains why they didn’t need to hit me up for cash again this week — the local VFW has donated some serious cash and some food, too.

I don’t know how I missed all of this. I guess I’ve been wrapped up in April and Paul. But it’s really astounding that these men (and women, there were two women, but they wouldn’t talk to anyone but each other) have sacrificed for our country and then gotten tossed out on their ears. If they have ears. I know that’s trite, but it’s still depressing.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009

There’s another cold front coming through tomorrow with a sleet storm — the only thing worse than a snow storm — so I’m off to do some good works again tonight. Doing something is the only thing that keeps me from boiling over right now. I’ve made a queen-sized quilt in two days. It’s possible that I’m nuts.

Anyway, rather than pour out the whole story from Tuesday, I thought I would thank everyone for their kind words. People have offered to send flowers or food. Instead, I’m asking you to donate any money you can to Amnesty and the ACLU. What Bush has done may, technically, in some perverted sense of the word be “legal” under the bullshit Presidential Directive 51, but I really don’t think so.

Have you ever played Cosmic Encounters? It’s a silly, ridiculously complex board game that I used to play in college. The thing that I remember most about it is that there are cards that completely obliterate all the rules. They made the game unpredictable, mind-bending, and cut-throat. Presidential Directive 51 does that to democracy… and while that’s fine for a board game, it’s the worst thing in the world for a country, I think.

On a totally unrelated note: Today is Blog for Choice Day, celebrating 36 years of Roe v. Wade. YAY choice! Vote pro-choice… if we ever get to vote again. God, what if PD51 allows the Evil One to overturn that? Now I’m even more scared.

Monday, Jan. 12, 2009

It’s almost midnight. I should be in bed, but I haven’t quite warmed up enough yet to crawl under the nice warm covers with Paul so I’ll sit here and sip my cocoa and let my body temp come back up to 98.6 while I rail at the world.

This cold snap has killed fourteen people in Boston so far. Four of them children. CHILDREN. That doesn’t include the number of people who died in fires from space heaters gone wrong.

I spent the night cooking at an emergency shelter again and was supposed to be home hours ago. But another drop was predicted for tonight — because 10 below isn’t cold enough — and they needed volunteers to help get families with kids to the shelter. I drive a Passat with a car seat so I could transport the babies. I picked up four different families, including creeping along at 10 mph at one point because one family had twins and I only had the one car seat.

One woman got in the car shivering so bad I couldn’t understand her name. I gave her the thermos of tea I was carrying around. She was wearing a coat but had given her warmest coat to her toddler, who was also much too blue at the lips for my taste. (He got my thermos of cocoa.) She was so ashamed of needed help that she was sobbing, though that could have been the lateness or the cold or a hundred other things, too.

She said that she got paid last Friday, but the oil company wouldn’t even put her on the waiting list until she could pay and they weren’t coming until Wednesday morning. Even Joe For Oil can’t keep up. (For non-Bostonians, Joe Kennedy and Citgo, the national oil company of Venezuela, donate oil to people in need in the area. Hugo Chavez ain’t my favorite guy normally, but right now, after the night I’ve had, I love him.)

Doesn’t this count as an emergency? Can’t the Bush administration step in a tell the oil companies to sell at a loss? I know it’s not capitalism at its finest, but children are freezing to death.

I’m warm now.

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008

Rags.

Paul and Archie have both waxed lyrical about rage and outrage and the exhaustive oppression that seems to be creeping up on our country.  I agree with them both, naturally. I love Gil, he’s my favorite in-law, and it’s been truly maddening to see my own country violate itself and my family in the name of “national security.”

But I’m tired right now. I’m tired from maintaining a household while my husband is off fighting the good fight. I’m tired from chasing a toddler with cabin fever. I’m tired from making sure Liz didn’t fall apart over the past three weeks. I’m tired from cooking and cleaning for the holidays. And I’m tired from dealing with rags.

You see, once again, I’ve gotten emergency calls from the charities I deal with. Christmas usually brings floods of donations — material and monetary. But they didn’t get much this year. Giving is way down — not unexpected, since this happened after 9/11 and Katrina, too. There’s only so much philanthropic cash to go around and when there’s a big tragedy, the little every day charities lose out. But between that and the soaring price of oil (did you have to pay $5/gallon for gas over the holiday weekend? We did!), a lot of people are cold.

So my quilting guild decided to have a fulled wool quilting party for New Year’s Eve. Buying new fabric is expensive and we’re all looking at the same high oil prices and the holidays bills and thinking that while we want to help, we can’t afford it. Then one of my co-quilters came up with the idea of doing a fulled wool party. (Fulling wool: Washing woven wool until it it very thick and totally non-frayable. Also, very warm.) There are three nice things about a fulled wool quilt. First, it’s warm. Very warm. And these are utilitarian quilts we want to make, to keep people warm. Second, it takes a lot less time and effort to sew since it doesn’t fray. Finally, it’s nearly free. We go down to Salvation Army or whatnot and buy every wool item in the place for a few dollars and then full it.

So I and three other quilters who can’t make it to the midnight party (toddlers, dontchya know) contributed our efforts today by ripping seams and throwing dismembered kilts and suit jackets into the laundromat’s biggest washer all afternoon. (Never full wool at home if you can help it — it does gnarly things to your machine.) Then we spent the day ironing these thick, heavy rags into usable units of cloth. The quilts will be unlovely, judging from the various piles we sorted out — mostly hounds tooth and charcoal gray and various plaids . But they will be sturdy and warm and cheap.

I’m exhausted. My lower back hurts, my arms ache, my hands stink like mothballs and musty old people’s feet. But I know that, thanks to my effort, some kid won’t huddle under his thin donated blanket with his teeth chattering. Some mom will be able to buy more food because she could turn the thermostat down a few more degrees. And I consider my aches well worth it.

But it leaves me with no energy to wax lyrical about rage and outrage. It leaves me with nothing to fight the good fight. I want to be Archy’s leader, or at least help her out. I want to do something to effect a larger change. But I’m so busy keeping my family fed and trying to help out on a material level that I’ve got nothing left to throw at the big picture.  I’m not apathetic, I’m just …. tired.

Monday, Nov. 24, 2008

The rolling blackouts have pretty much stopped, so I feel safe trying to update the blog. My last two attempts got wiped out when the electricity suddenly dissappeared.

As you all know, the Northeast has been locked down all weekend thanks to a nasty ice storm that blew in Friday and left us all encased in glittering suspended animation. What you may or may not know (I haven’t been watching the news, I have no idea what kind of coverage this mini-disaster is getting) is that with oil at such a premium and such long waits for heating oil, some of our local families ran out of oil this weekend. Either because the oil company just didn’t get there in time or because they couldn’t afford it.

Now, many many people in New England have little electric heaters. It’s just common sense, really, when you live somewhere that it gets really cold often. So, across New England, people began plugging in their little heaters to try to keep warm. Add to that the stress caused by downed lines and blown out transformers or whatever and our fragile little electrical grid started pooping out.

I think I mentioned last week or so that my friend Juliet was told there would be a two-week wait for oil. She had enough to get by… as long as there wasn’t a cold snap, I said. Guess what? She ran out on Saturday morning and plugged in her ceramic heater Saturday at noon. The rolling blackouts started on Saturday afternoon.

She has a son who is eight months younger than April. And no heat. And with perfectly clear skies and single-digit temps predicted on Saturday night, she was pretty well scrod. I got a call about three in the afternoon and her whole family camped out on my floor until this morning, when the oil company finally showed up. It was kinda fun, actually, like a slumber party and snow day all rolled into one.

Juliet is a pretty good cook and so is her husband, so we spent much of the weekend pulling together big batches of soup and bread to give away. Because there were, apparently, lots of families in Juliet’s position. The mayor set up emergency shelters in the local schools and I got phone calls asking to chip in. The local homeless place had apparently suggested me as a good source of lots of food and with Juliet’s help I really poured it on. We made lentil soup, pasta e fagioli, and cream of potato soup with bacon and sage, plus onion rolls, whole wheat bread, and Parker House Rolls. Also, a huge chocolate chip cookie pie for the kids for dessert and a giant pan of mac n cheese, because you sometimes just need piles of comfort food.

Like I said, it was fun. But I’m worried. The refineries aren’t going to be fixed until spring at the earliest and no matter how much of the strategic reserve Bush offers up to the gods of public opinion, we can’t use it until it’s been refined. Which means the supply chain is going to continue to be this close to the bone. And we live in New England — blizzards, ice storms, and cold snaps are all a routine part of life. Is Juliet going to have to camp out any time her oil company can’t deliver? Is my gas company going to start rationing? How often am I going to have to pull out my 15-quart le Cruset pan to make giant batches of soup for emergency shelters this winter?

And how many of the families at those temporary shelters are going to wind up on the street for good if the oil prices stay so damned high? What do you do when its pay the mortgage or pay for heat?