Today, my agency worked in partnership with a local church during their monthly food drive. As ashamed as I am of how Oakland residents and protestors have been treated lately, I’m reminded that our city definitely does do more for the underprivileged than others would. I’ve talked to city employees who organized a free taxi program for Oakland seniors; once they fill out an application a taxi will pick them up, take them where they need to go, then wait for them to finish, and take them home. It’s an amazing program, and I was very proud of my city to do such a thing for it’s elderly residents.
Our agency was contacted by a local Korean church who put on a food drive each month. The food drive is open to any Oakland resident, and instead of handing out hot plates, they hand out actual groceries. Most of the church members are elderly themselves, and they needed younger hands to carry boxes of produce around and organize. I jumped at the opportunity, because I’ve wanted to do something like this on a regular basis. It was easy to find volunteers who also shared an interest in helping their community, and today was extremely humbling and eye-opening.
The Alameda County food bank allots a certain amount to go towards feeding Oakland residents, and that amount is divvied up between different organizations. The church is one of those organizations, and passes out 12,000 pounds of food each month.
No, you are not reading the number wrong. twelve. thousand. each. month.
The members of the church are extremely kind and organized, and emphasized that we do not look down our noses towards recipients, and to treat them with the upmost respect. The potatoes we received were rotten, and we called the city of Oakland to send them back. I’m sure they thought they could fly by with this, since this is free food being given to a disenfranchised community, but we were not going to distribute that garbage.
We spent hours passing out food. Onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, pears, cabbage, and whole young chickens. We passed food out to people who waited in line for three hours. Some people picked up their groceries without a word, some thanked us and wished us a happy holiday, some laughed joyfully when they saw they were receiving a whole chicken. The majority of them didn’t speak English, and it was clear there is a community right next door to my apartment in dire need of simple necessities.
At times, things got ugly as people started to lose patience and tried to push past each other. After we finished, the church member who organized the food drive apologized for the random bits of chaos and hoped that we did not look at them differently. Thankfully, my volunteers are clear headed people and we all agreed it had been our pleasure to work today.
It’s easy to look down on people and judge when you’re part of the majority, when you’ve got the upper hand. It’s easy, but it’s not fucking okay. The old Asian woman you make fun of who’s digging through your recycling bin outside? She’s doing that because she actually will benefit from the 5 cents she makes per can, because that’s how hard she’s struggling to get by in this country. When’s the last time you said you had to suffer just to get a decent meal? When’s the last time you had to wait three hours in the cold, waiting for groceries because you’re so tight on money?
We all complain about the little annoyances in our lives, myself included. You can bitch about your life, you can indulge in things once in awhile, it’s natural. But what you need to keep in mind is to always be humble, and always give back. There are people 5 minutes away from you who have it so much worse, who have to work 10000 times harder to get something as simple as groceries for their family.
While I was transcribing interviews with various pioneers of the Korean American/Asian American/Bay Area community, my director asked each person, “why give back? why is philanthropy important?” Each person answered with, “why not?”. At some point, someone in your life has helped you in some way. I always rant about how fucked up we’ve gotten, and how horribly humans have started to treat each other, but it’s days like this that remind me we all possess that core human quality somewhere inside of us, to help each other out. Instead of asking why you should wake up early to volunteer for complete strangers, why you should spend your day off giving back to the community for a few hours, why you should donate a few dollars to your local charity or non profit organization, why you should sign on to a petition that could save a family from being torn apart, why you should sign on to a petition that could save someone’s life, ask yourself: why not? and tell me if you can come up with a solid answer. I highly doubt you can.