Happy Halloween 2013

In the early 60s Mom had 3 small girls and was the leader of a troop of Brownie Scouts. My mother was a sucker for holidays, and she loved Halloween. From personally answering the door with big bowls of apples and candy (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ treats) she progressed to dressing up as a witch in cape and hat.

We had a Walt Disney ”Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” record that played over and over in the background. Mom began to dye her face and hands a rather convincing green. She perfected a witch’s cackle and would slowly open the front door to a dark living room. The yarn cobwebs and paper skeletons hanging from the ceiling then became visible in the lights from the candles.

Needless to say, our house became cult. Little kids (and their parents, who discovered it had to be seen to be believed) saved our house for last to visit on the trick-or-trick circuit. We ended up having to buy lots more apples and candies every year as the number of visitors grew.

Mom was always slightly hoarse and had a sickly green-y pallor for days after that holiday. Green food coloring does not wash off easily….

I wish I had some pictures from those days but this one will have to suffice. As a massage therapist I have a (not-real) skeleton standing in my treatment room as a visual aide. Each year on October 31st I set him in a window backlit by candles, to honor my mother and all the dead.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

NOTES: This was one of my earliest posts, I think my 4th? (I know I had about 5 blog followers.) I still love Halloween, so today marks the very first time I’m repeating a post. First posted on October 27, 2012

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A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1

Pablo Neruda Quote FFLC

I’m hard at work on my next novel. You’ll meet a psychotherapist with a fear of flying, cult members, and a woman with strange dreams. One character visits a food bank. It’s a brief scene, one page or maybe two, tops. Easy enough. Nonetheless, the scene matters.

I spent hours trolling the Web for information. The back of my brain always insists, Get it right, Jadi. Then I remembered I actually know several people who work at non-profits… and I’d never visited a food bank. So, in the interests of research (and a wonderful excuse to see what a friend does all day) I made an appointment to interview Beverlee Hughes, Executive Director of Food For Lane County [FFLC] in Eugene, Oregon.

I thought I knew about the reality of hunger. Uwe and I travel to out of the way places, and God knows we’ve seen poverty and malnutrition in countries and regions all around the globe. But the visit to FFLC brings it back home.

  • Fact: 20% of the U.S. population lives in poverty
  • Fact: 46 million Americans are on food stamps
  • Fact: The number of people needing services has tripled in a decade
  • Fact: 1 in every 5 people in Oregon is eligible for food assistance
  • Fact: Oregon State has highest rate of childhood hunger in the country (29.0%)
  • Fact: 30% of children in Oregon are food insecure *
  • Fact: 39% of Lane County residents are eligible for emergency food assistance
  • Fact: In some Lane County schools, 95% of all children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunches

What do you do with these facts? If you’re Beverlee, you get to work. She and her staff of 58 achieve an astonishing range of goals:

  • Emergency & Mobile food pantries (distributing just under 8 million lbs. of food/year)
  • Emergency Meal sites & shelters
  • 3 Child Nutrition Programs
  • Food Rescue Express & Fresh Alliance (distributing 1 million lbs. of food/year)
  • 2 gardens & a 6-acre farm that grow food & build self-esteem. FFLC hires at-risk kids and through internships teaches them teamwork, punctuality, customer services, etc. Daily lunches at the gardens teach people what freshly harvested produce tastes like.
  • Extra Helping, food for low-income housing sites
  • Rural deliveries
  • Delivery of once-a-month food boxes for low-income seniors
  • A farm stand outside PTA meetings where parents can pick up food as they leave
  • The Dining Room, the food bank’s sit-down restaurant in downtown Eugene, offering free 4-5 course meals. They serve up to 300 meals a night.
  • Shopping Matters, classes to teach people on limited budgets how to shop for food
  • Cooking Matters, free cooking & nutrition classes to begin in January 2014

 ***

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

* Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

Photo Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 2

Wall Mural FFLC

“Justice of Eating Produce Stand”

The first thing I noticed is that the food bank takes up an entire warehouse. Outside the front doors a lovely mural depicts people harvesting a garden for an old-fashioned produce stand. The next wall has a quote from Pablo Neruda.

The reception area has tall walls with high windows, metal filing cases and the ubiquitous, moveable office divider walls. Boxes in the gigantic pantries are stacked impossibly tall, 10-15 palettes high. Signs direct donors to head to Dock 1; at another dock, vans load food to be delivered to distribution centers.IMG_5899

IMG_5905

These boxes store all sorts of food goods, not bananas!

IMG_5915

Beverlee moved to Eugene from the Oregon coast where she was one of the humans  instrumental in releasing an orca back to the ocean (you know that story as “Free Willie”). She’s always loved community development work.

Bev says, “In the non-profit world you wear so many hats. You can be responsible for so many things. If I like coming to work, I certainly want my employees to enjoy coming to work…it’s a whole lot easier to manage an organization where folks are happy. It’s great to keep my finger on the pulse.”

Of the staff of 58, thirty-six employees are full time, and 6 of those are involved in fund raising and marketing. Many of the workers have been with the non-profit for 18-20 years. All are passionately committed to FFLC’s goals.

A typical employee “is a guy who had a really good job, great bennies, and a good salary. But it wasn’t meaningful work. So at a certain age he decided that he needed to change gears and do something more meaningful.

“It’s a paradox sometimes,” Bev says. “We have people working here who need our services. A liveable minimum wage is $15/hour. But all of our full time employees get health care and retirement benefits.”

Entry-level employees usually are young people (frequently part-time), working their way into careers. Other positions are filled by a highly educated group who usually hold graduate degrees and have an interest in non-profit management. Many are Peace Corps veterans or people with experience as volunteers. The 16 men who work in the warehouse are a range of ages, all of them interested in physical labor.

FFLC runs 13 food programs, each with a unique way of distributing food to the hungry. Most of the food bank’s 140 partner organizations are staffed by volunteers.

Bev wanted to know first-hand what it’s like to budget for food on a limited income. “The first thing that happens when people are strapped,” she said, “is they decide not to eat. They want to pay the bills and keep the roof over their heads.” Persons on food stamps provided by the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, feed themselves on what comes to $31.50 a week, or $1.50 a meal. Bev had to think ahead and prepare food all the time to make it work. She realized that “[a] person who has limited access to food by necessity spends a lot of energy trying to figure out how to meet that hunger.”

Food For Lane County is Eugene’s most popular non-profit, and she hears stories every day about people who have been touched by their services. Bev volunteers at FFLC’s programs and especially loves FFLC’s restaurant. The Dining Room serves nightly free meals with a piano playing in the room, artwork on the walls, and newspapers to read. The homeless and the hungry are fed with dignity. Bev describes being there as “a Buddhist moment”.

I asked her for any last thoughts. She notes that America has no national discussion about hunger and poverty. People cared when the recession first hit, but events have moved on in terms of dialog or visibility. And in the meantime the problems of hunger and the hungry in the USA have worsened.

Before the afternoon ended I knew I was going to blog about Beverlee and Food For Lane County.

Beverlee Hughes, Executive Director,  Food For Lane County

Beverlee Hughes, Executive Director, Food For Lane County

 ***

FFLC’s vision: To eliminate hunger in Lane County.

Their mission: “To alleviate hunger by creating access to food. We accomplish this by soliciting, collecting, rescuing, growing, preparing and packaging food for distribution through a network of social services agencies and programs and through public awareness, education and community advocacy.”

* Food insecurity—the condition assessed in the food security survey and represented in USDA food security reports—is a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx#.Ui3Z7X9INQ0

http://www.magpictures.com/aplaceatthetable/ “A Place at the Table” with Jeff Bridges is about hunger in America.

bhughes@foodforlanecounty.org

email: info@foodforlanecounty.org

facebook.com/foodforlanecounty

twitter.com/FoodForLC

youtube.com/food4lanecounty

Look for FFLC on Craig’s List

NOTES: The facts in this post speak for themselves. I didn’t need to editorialize or make many comments. The bald reality of hunger in  America is outrageous enough.

Pablo Neruda Quote FFLC

Photos Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Just Riding Around

“No one must ever come here,” Danny commented. Jilly was focused on the forest floor and didn’t answer, but he was right. The carpet of woods was undisturbed, and the trail she and her brother were following was unmarked by old boot tracks from anybody else.

Danny stopped to sit back on his heels and look up into the clear sky. The sound of Jilly’s woodpecker was louder; either they’d gotten nearer, or else the bird (or whatever was making the noise; he still wasn’t convinced it was necessarily a pecker) had flown in their direction. Tap tap tap tap thwock tap thwock. He stood back up. “Come on. Let’s go find your not-bird.”

Obediently Jilly followed, too happy with the day and the peace in the woods to respond to the comment. The trail narrowed, and the siblings walked single file without making noise as they followed an occasional tap thwock. The noise was less frequent and had stabilized itself to a point somewhere not far off.

Jilly looked behind her to see if she’d missed anything back down the trail, and promptly ran into her brother. Danny stood in the middle of it, concentrating on something ahead.

“Someone lives out here.” He pointed left. The trail rose a little, and they stood on the only point where the building could be seen clearly at all. Jilly squinted; she would need glasses soon, but so far nobody had noticed. Jilly’s quick wits compensated for what she lacked in visual acuity. Jilly narrowed her eyes into slits until she made out a dull brown building. It was a small hut, and the builder hadn’t bothered to clear out any of the trees or surrounding underbrush.

Danny and Jill went nearer, moving more slowly but intensely curious. Danny didn’t say anything as they kept following the trail. He ignored the No Trespassing sign nailed to a tree; Danny knew his sister hadn’t seen the other signs either, all warning they were on private property.

The trail ended abruptly. They stood at the edge of a wall of brambles, towering 4 feet above their heads. The screen of thick blackberry canes shielded the cabin from sight. Sharp points grabbed onto Danny’s knap sack when he went nearer, and he shrugged the pack off his shoulders and set it on the ground as he searched for a way through the thorny wall. The surrounding ground was awkward with rocks.

“We’ll never get through this,” Danny said.

“Over here.” His sister had found a path cunningly cut into the bramble, low enough that an adult would need to duck down to see it at all. The two children were just the right height to make out the path, visible only if you were searching for a way through the thicket. Jilly and her brother made their way into the low brush, moving carefully to avoid getting snagged.

They came out on the opposite side of the briar hedges and discovered they were close to the dwelling. It was constructed of smooth planks of wood and had a single door that was closed, and no windows. Jill moved back to the trees beyond the cabin, still looking for her bird. She vanished almost immediately into the darkness created by shadows of the tall trees. Danny circled around the side of the cabin.

He stepped into a messy clearing filled with wire cages, some of them with busted wire netting, all of them empty. Other than the ground under the abandoned cages, nothing had been cleaned or cleared. He discovered another, smaller hut almost completely hidden by the bushes and saplings crowding back into the forest.

There was no longer any sound of the hammering. “Told you there wasn’t a wood pecker,” Danny began to call after his sister. Before he could finish the words a shrill yapping drowned out his voice.

Danny shrieked and something banged against the hut’s inner walls. It went on banging without pause, as if a gigantic creature with fifty frantic scrabbling legs climbed up the wall in a desire to attack him. The yaps didn’t let up for a second. Things were hurling themselves against the planks, rabid with anger. For a moment the clearing was suddenly, terribly still, all sound sucked out of the day and into the creatures trying to break their way out of the cabin.

Danny glanced wildly around the clearing. He ran over to the cages and put his weight on the nearest one to see if they were stable enough for him to climb up out of biting range. He was testing the surprisingly thick wooden frames when the cabin’s owner stepped out in front of him.

Danny wondered why the burly man was wearing boots on a warm day, but the shovel the man carried took up his attention. “What’s your name? What do you think you’re doing?” The adult went on talking without waiting for an answer.

“I’m Danny Tarbery,” Danny answered. “I was just riding around, out exploring, that’s all.”

“Danny? Why, that’s my name, too.” The man came closer. “Danny. Dan. You can call me Big Dan. Little Danny, you’re a long ways from town for exploring.” Danny swallowed hard and tried not to make a face. Big Dan smelled unbelievably bad. It was a stench of very old sweat, the crusty plaid shirt he wore, and the mud caking the shovel and his boots with a combination of earth and partially decomposed swamp grasses.

Big Dan was directly in front of Danny but he didn’t stop coming. Danny backed up until he was cornered between the man, the cages, and the cabin. He stumbled a little as his body touched the back wall. The dogs became aware of his presence against it outside and Danny felt the boards yield. They threw themselves against the wood over and over, the movements harder and more insistent.

The man bared his lips and brown teeth showed in an incongruously attractive smile. He flicked almost white hair out of his face and never let go of the dirty shovel. “What d’you think you’re exploring for?”

There was a pause inside as the canines heard the older man’s voice. The thudding began again even harder. Danny literally felt them as they scrabbled up and down the other side of the thin planks. The frame and walls shuddered; the dogs were rabid to get outside. Danny began trembling, and couldn’t stop.

“You had to come looking even though the road out there has a bunch of No trespassing signs, right?” The owner pointed in the direction of the dirt track, clearly indicating it as the road in question. “You saw the signs, don’t pretend you didn’t.” He looked at Danny, calculating. “Boy, how old are you?”

“My step father’s waiting for me,” Danny began.

He heard the snapping of brush littering the ground off to the right on the far side of the cabin. The door to the cabin creaked as it opened and there was silence for four seconds. The air filled back up with shrill barking. Danny listened terrified as dogs sniffed the air and dashed towards where he stood trapped against the back wall of the cabin.

Calmly the man with the terrible smell turned and called out, “We got a visitor here. Stop!”

Danny watched in incomprehension as three dogs, far too small to have produced the huge amount of chaotic noise, immediately stood at attention. He wanted to laugh, but he was too scared. “Chihuahuas?” Danny said.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

– from my short story “Just Riding Around” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.