a class action

Recently in my email inbox the following arrived from a local network:


I know everyone is having it rough as am I. I need food for my children. I hate asking on here but we, literally, are starting to look like Old Mother Hubbard. Any help would be appreciated.

I’ve gone to the local food banks but they don’t give out much as they don’t have it either.

I chewed over this message a bit because it disturbed me. First and foremost, I thought how very sad it is that someone feels they do not have enough food for the family. This is an experience many have not had and no one would want.

It also bothered me a bit because this email network’s intention was not one of charity or of meeting needs for free supplies, food, services, etc. The group is one of environmental stewardship, reusing, and reducing waste.* Now, I am a rule-stickler, it’s true. I hate to see a group get used improperly or abused – as I have often seen in my five years’ experience with this particular network. But food? Food for a family? Here I have a huge bin of potatoes from my garden and a desire to meet, commune with, and help those in my community.

I have long disliked the oft-applied concept of “enabling” someone by helping them. I wonder: who gets to decide when someone is self-sufficient, hard-working and somehow “deserving” enough to get help? Versus when someone is some kind of welfare wretch, always asking for a handout, someone we “shouldn’t” help because that only encourages their – I don’t know, laziness, victimhood, whatever. Why is it the people who take the latter view on emails such as this one often have precisely not been in these kinds of difficult positions? Are they afraid to think of this happening to them? Have they convinced themselves it was their virtue and island-like self-sufficiency alone that has spared them these kinds of discomforts? Do they truly believe there is “not enough to go around” and therefore, only the “deserving” should be able to – eat?

After a bit of thought I dial the phone number listed in the email and ask this person if they’d like what I have to offer. She immediately says yes and “God bless you.” I pack up about five pounds of potatoes (purple and fingerling), three large onions, and two cans of home-canned salmon caught here in Westport, a cake mix, and a box of spanish rice. Sophie helps me in the selection of food: “Are they poor?” she asks – with no judgment or fear. “Yeah,” I say. There’s nothing wrong with being poor.

The kids and I put on our long underwear and coats, hop on the bike and head off into the cold sunshine for delivery to a neighbor.

* To quote from the group’s homepage: Rather than watching perfectly good items being thrown away, the group found themselves calling or driving around to see if various local nonprofits could use them. Thinking there had to be an easier way, [the founder] set up that first e-mail group in a way that permitted everyone in the area to give and to get.

The concept has since spread to over 75 countries, where there are thousands of local groups representing millions of of members — people helping people and “changing the world one gift at a time.” As a result, we are currently keeping over 300 tons a day out of landfills! This amounts to four times the height of Mt. Everest in the past year alone, when stacked in garbage trucks.

By giving freely with no strings attached, members of [the network] help instill a sense of generosity of spirit as they strengthen local community ties and promote environmental sustainability and reuse. People from all walks of life have joined together to turn trash into treasure!

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