Robbie Leary was talking as loud as she could. She was in the back seat of Alphonso Greatwood’s super customized van, and it was a long way to the front seat where Alphonso sat behind the wheel, and Marge Aaron sat in the bucket seat next to him. She also had to talk over Wiley Vondra, and Mary Rose McGill ,who were in the seat ahead of her. Beside her, Hadley Joy Morris Whitfield listened intently.
“In my next life,” Robbie said, “I’m going to be a bear.”
They turned to look at her.
“Bears hibernate. They sleep for six months. I can deal with that.” She grinned. “And before you go to sleep, you’re supposed to eat yourself stupid.”
“I could deal with that!” Marge said.
“Then,” Robbie added. “If you’re a girl bear you give birth while you’re sleeping and the babies are the size of walnuts. When you wake up they’ve grown into cute, cuddly cubs.”
“I could deal with that,” Mary Rose said, thinking of her four daughters.
“And nobody messes with a mama bear,” Robbie went on. “If something or someone bothers your cubs, you swat ‘em. If your cubs don’t behave, you swat ‘em.”
“I could deal with that,” Hadley said, thinking of her son.
“What’s more,” Robbie said, even more loudly, “Your mate expects you to wake up growling, have hairy legs and excess body fat.”
“I could deal with that!” the four girls said together.
They were on their way to volunteer at Claire Cares, a north Omaha food bank that delivered food to families and individuals once a month. It had been Alphonso’s idea and they had agreed it would be a good thing to do, even though they couldn’t stand for a long time and had no idea if they would be a help or a hindrance.
“Mask up!” Hadley and Robbie said as the van stopped in front of the church. They all put their masks over their noses and mouths.
When they piled out and went into the part of Clair United Methodist Church that held Clair Cares, they discovered what looked like total chaos. African-American women were scurrying around, boxes were everywhere, food was everywhere. It looked as if nothing was being done amoungst great movement and misdirection.
Mary Rose looked down at a huge box filled with rock-solid frozen meats. She touched Wiley’s arm.
“This comes from the sale freezer at a grocery store,” she said, just loud enough so he could hear. “They can’t sell it, so they give it to the food bank, I bet.”
Alphonso worked his way toward a busy black lady who seemed to be in charge. They talked for just a minute. She looked up at the little group and nodded.
In just minutes, the girls were seated in plastic garden chairs and were surrounded by boxes. Young black teens started moving food toward them and Alphonso grinned.
“Box it,” he said.
They began putting a variety of food into each box.
“Oh, geeze,” Robbie said. She held up a box of cereal that had been crushed. It looked as if an 18-wheeler had run over it.
“Box it,” Alphonso said.
As the girls filled one box, he moved it out so a teen could take it to the van.
Hadley tried standing for awhile to fill a box on a chair beside her, but her back began to hurt and her legs began to ache.
“This growing old slows me down,” she complained.
A family walked slowly in the door. A little girl of eight or nine held onto her mother’s hand. A little boy about the same age had a hold of his father’s hand. The man carried two plastic bags from Walmart.
The family went to the lady in charge, spoke for a minute, then began to fill the bags with food spread around the room.
When they got close to Hadley she said, “Don’t you want a box for that?”
The man smiled.
“We don’t have a car,” he said. “The bags are easier to carry home.”
“Don’t have a car?” Alphonso asked.
The man nodded.
“You do now,” Alphonso said. He handed a box to each parent. “We’ll take my van.”
The man looked at the floor.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, as the two children began holding up jars of peanut butter and jelly for their mother’s box.”
“Ramens!” the little boy exclaimed, seeing a box full of Ramen noodles.
“The pandemic has put the whole neighborhood out of work,” one of the black ladies said as she placed more boxes beside the girls. The teen volunteers brought more sacks of food for them to separate into the boxes.
“Some folks from other parts of the city seem to think if our folks want to work they can find a job. That’s not so.” She shook her head.
“I say,’Matthew 7:1” Robbie said.
“What’s that?” Hadley asked.
“Judge not!” Robbie answered. She looked angry.
“Omaha is a very segregated city,” Robbie said, almost to herself. “It breaks my heart.”
“That is what breaks my heart,” Hadley said, and she pointed to the little boy who was being lifted onto Alphonso’s scooter for a ride out the door and into the van to take them home with two full boxes of food. The sole of his little shoe was hanging loose where the duct tape holding it on had come loose.
The girls worked for three hours until all the food was boxed. The back of the van was full of boxes. A young man in his twenties climbed into the back and sat on the floor, cozy among the bounty of food.
“First stop, nearest public housing,” the young man said. “We have six elderly people there.”
They went to homes without paint, apartments with broken doors, three different pubic housing locations. It was a sad trip, but a satisfying one.
“Like the little boy’s shoe,” Robbie said to Hadley as they started back to Meadow Lakes Retirement Community. “You have to name what breaks your heart. Then you have to do something about it.”
They were privileged they knew. And on the way home, they were also wise. They stopped at Ted and Wally’s for ice cream.
Note from Joy: There really is a Clair Cares Food Bank in North Omaha. We applaud all the Clair folks who make it possible and for the hard work that goes into it. Find what breaks your heart – then do something about it – even if it’s just writing letters of encouragement, calling someone who needs a word of cheer or contacting government officials who have the power to make a change.
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