For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to spend that much time this summer at Green Chimneys so it’s been good to return on a regular basis and work with a new crop of children. Of my old charges, only one is a repeat, which is bittersweet as I miss my former students while I am happy to meet new ones. Now the challenge is to discover how I can best work with each and bring out their potential.
But before I get too involved with the new group I recently went on a field trip with many of the old to deliver harvested vegetables to the Brewster Putnam Community Action Program (CAP), which distributes food to those in need within Putnam County, N.Y. As I have written about previously, we have been delivering food to this facility for over two years and we believed it was high time that the children were able to see where the fruits of their labors wound up.
It was a good time to gather the children as we needed to clean up the row for the hungry (garlic needs to be planted soon) as it would be moved to a new location in the garden. We first collected all the tomatoes that were on the vines, regardless of ripeness. We only had four plants but were able to glean 25 pounds of fruit. We pulled a bunch of basil plants around the tomatoes for good measure and placed them in a bucket. When one child wondered why we were pulling these plants I rubbed a leaf on her nose. At first she was taken back, but quickly smiled and loved the smell.
We next cut a flat of Swiss chard and added that to a flat of leeks that were pulled the day before. Tracy let me take some of the extra garlic we had harvested and for good measure we cut parsley that was at the end of the row and threw in a couple of squashes. We had over 60 pounds of food to deliver.
We had an uneventful ride but once we got to the food pantry, the children were all excited about helping. “I want to hand out all the vegetables we harvested,” said Ben.
We were greeted by Brewster CAP's Volunteer Coordinator, Mary Bodor, who organized our crew into organizing and packing everything we brought in. “Everything needs to be put in a bag,” she said. “Why don’t we start with the tomatoes?” So all the children started to grab five or six tomatoes to place in a bag that would be tied and placed on the table. We did the same with the Swiss chard as well as parsley. The garlic was already in braids.
“We get all the food here from supermarkets like Trader Joe’s as well as from the government for distribution,” said Mary. “But we don’t have much fresh food.” The children appeared to be taken aback at not only how tightly everything was packed and organized but by the type of food and goods that were available. Two of the refrigerators were stuffed with sheet cakes and pies that had been donated; boxes of disposable diapers rested nearby.
Most of the fresh food, unlike what we provided, was produce or fruits that had passed their prime. Pears with spots or apples with bruises were ok; moldy grapes were not. We were hoping that today’s recipients would enjoy our offerings. They were but a small part, however, of a shopping bag of staples that are given on a monthly basis to CAP’s clients as a supplement. The children enjoyed being told what to gather and putting together bags of food for the people who came to the center. They felt helpful.
On the way back to Green Chimneys I asked the children what they had learned. One child said it was good to be able to help people. Another said, “I was great to help so many poor people in such a poor area.” I responded, “Why do you think they are poor?”
It was easy to see how he came to this assumption. The offices were simply furnished and cramped; the clients were wearing old jeans and T-shirts. “It’s not just poor people who need places like this. Many people today are down on their luck without jobs and need a little help,” I said. “We are lucky at Green Chimneys as there is plenty of food and people who take care of you.” The children nodded. Another child added, “It’s good to give people food so they won’t be hungry.” I thought that was the best statement of the day.
(The photographs in this blog were taken by Jodi Doff at Green Chimneys.)