It's always about so much more than just the food. And it's always about the difference one person can make.
Pulling up to Mrs. G's home just days after delivering her produce for the week, we came with bags of groceries for her and her four-legged companions. Thanks to the generosity of one donor, who responded to the the original Facebook post about Mrs. G., Pie in the Sky made a surprise visit to a grateful senior citizen.
As we unpacked the groceries, she stood in her kitchen, her hand over her mouth in disbelief, tears of joy and gratitude in her eyes. When we opened the freezer, which we had not seen before, the stark reality of her circumstances slammed us like a brick; the freezer was bare. There was nothing, nothing in it. Not for long, as we carefully placed the food inside and the freezer filled up, so did our grateful hearts.
The generosity of the Friends of Pie made my heart swell with pride and gratitude. The donor who came forward asked only two things; that the donation go toward the Weaver Challenge Grant and to buy food for Mrs. G. We were happy to comply and now we have double the donation to help fill in the cracks not only for Mrs. G. but for the other elders in our community that have empty fridges', too.
Yes, there is sadness in the job we do. Seeing lonely, hungry senior citizens, our neighbors, in need. But there is joy, because of you, we are able to see the gratitude on the faces of many Mrs. G's, when we deliver food and have the opportunity to turn an empty fridge into a full one.
We are all in this together and together we can, and we are, making a difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors. And, as I mentioned in the beginning, it's about so much more than just food. It's about the sense of community when we all work together to help those in need and it's about hope. When we deliver food to 182 Mrs. G's, we are not just delivering tomatoes and cabbage, we are delivering that sense of community as well. We are letting all of these folks know that they matter and that there are people out here that care about them. And with that compassion that we deliver, they feel not just grateful, but hopeful. And that is huge.
And on this day, in a tidy little mobile home, at the end of a deserted dirt road, right in the middle of St. Augustine, that most folks don't even know exists, hope was alive and well.
My only wish is that you could have seen her face when we pulled out a bag of cookies, a luxury that she could never have dreamed she would have.
"Cookies," she said, with tears freely flowing down her cheeks. "I love cookies."
From Mrs. G. and from all of us at Pie in the Sky, thank you for sharing the post and thank you to Mrs.G's generous benefactor. For now, for her, all is right with the world.
The Empty Fridge
We are all guilty of it. I can hear myself saying it, "I'm starving." or just, "I'm so hungry." The reality is just the opposite. I have never been hungry or starving in my life. But we are so conditioned to have food on demand that when we go ten minutes without it, we are starving.
But I am not going to say that anymore. This week when I was delivering groceries, my last delivery was to 82- year-old Mrs. G. I had an extra bag of produce and I asked her if she could use it. When she opened her refrigerator to put it away, I was stunned. There were four items in the fridge. A small bowl covered with tinfoil, a bottle of water, some ketchup and a nearly empty jar of pickle relish. That's all. That is all.
When I came home I looked in my fridge. Every single available space was full. I didn't even have room to put my leftover lunch in. There was fruit and veggies, jam and jelly, pickles and marinades and cheese and lunchmeat, condiments galore, water, tea and even a couple of beers and so much more.
I stood looking at my overflowing fridge and I couldn't stop thinking about Mrs. G and her fridge. She is 82 years old. She has no family, and lives with her two dogs and one cat and pays more than half of her income in rent. The last time I saw her, when I asked if there was anything she needed, she asked me to sit and talk with her for a bit, all the while that fridge was sitting there empty. She never said a word.
On this day, I made her my last stop so I could sit and visit a bit. We talked about the weather, the news, she asked me about my day, we talked about her furry companions and her family and still, on this visit, she never mentioned that empty fridge, which I could not get out of my mind.
I have never been hungry and I have surely never been starving. I have been through tough times but I always had something to eat. It might have been a can of spam, but it was food, sustenance. And other than the day my fridge was delivered, it has never been as empty as Mrs. G's fridge was.
When we think about who is hungry in America, Mrs. G is not who we picture in our minds. She worked hard all of her life, did everything she was supposed to do, but living on social security and a small retirement from her job in a county where low-income housing is at best hard to find and at worst, nearly non-existent, most of Mrs. G's income goes to housing expenses. Food is secondary.
Let me say that again. For a senior citizen in American struggling to live on social security income, food is secondary.
How can that be? How can we be the country that we are and have 4,103 Mrs. G's living in our community with an empty fridge? How can we not be better than this? How can our parents and grandparents be going to bed hungry, really hungry? If the numbers were 10 or even 100, some folks might be able to attribute the empty fridge to bad life choices, but the number is 4,103 in our county and 2.3 million nationwide. This isn't about any one person making poor life choices, this is on all of us. This kind of systemic poverty is a shared responsibility of our society.
I don't have the answer. Pie in the Sky does what we can do, as do others in our community. This week alone, 9 volunteers delivered more than 1700 pounds of food to 159 seniors in all four corners of our county. This time last year we were delivering to 62 seniors. We are doing our best to reach as many as we can and it matters a lot to those we do reach. But even still, I am left with the burning image of the empty fridge, so stark and barren and yet Mrs. G. never said a word.
At the end of our visit, she hugged me tightly and thanked me for the food and for spending time with her. Usually I end my day feeling like we have made a difference, but on this day, all I could think about was that empty fridge.
We have to do better. We must do better.
Remembering Michael Chadwick
Letter: Remembering Michael ChadwickMarch 2, 2013 Editorials
Letter: Remembering Michael Chadwick
Malea Moore Guiriba
This time of year in Hastings, the streets are filled with cabbage and potato carts, hauling the fresh produce from field and farms.
Folks from all over enjoy the fresh and bountiful harvest resulting from the months of cultivating, planting, cutting and digging.
The streets, like many other rural farm towns across America, are also filled with another component, but one that is not always as recognizable as the potato carts, the fresh head of cabbage or the labels that market the produce, the farm worker.
While so much work goes into harvesting the food that reaches the tables of Americans, the men and women who gather in those small towns all across the country to cut and pick and grade all of our food, are not always known to the end consumer.
This was never more evident than it was a couple of weeks ago when local farm worker Michael Chadwick died in hospice care. In his final days, social workers reached out to many of us in Hastings trying to find someone who knew Michael.
He came to Hastings 20 years ago, but no one knows where he came from. No one knows who his people are. We do know he is somebody’s son. Most folks in town will tell you they know Michael Chadwick. They have seen him around. But no one really knows him at all. He is one of many who ended up working in the fields, by choice or by chance.
When I posted a message on facebook asking for help in Michael’s final days, the response was beautiful. That post was shared 65 times and received nearly 2,000 views. People all across the country now knew Michael Chadwick’s name.
Carol Lagasse from Estate Title emailed and offered to go and sit with Michael.
Later that night, Harold Clemons from the Sertoma Club called and said he would like to go to hospice and be with Michael, so he wouldn’t be alone.
Beverly Slough sent facebook prayers and hundreds of others lit candles to honor a man everybody in town knew of.
Michael is one of the 200 or so farm workers who work in fields scattered throughout our community — many of these men and women call Hastings their home year round.
Also like Michael, they have lived here for many years and yet their lives serve as a backdrop to a town whose very survival is based on farming, much of which could not be done without men like Michael.
Michael Chadwick is somebody’s son. No one has figured out who his family is and Michael is gone now. But many other men and women, who are just as much a part of our community as anyone else, remain. They all have names, Mike, John, Robert, Bill and Tom and so many others. They are all someone’s child and they are farmworkers.
See you on Main Street.
Feature: A Different Kind of Christmas StoryDecember 14, 2014 Editorials
A Different Kind of Christmas Story
Malea Guiriba, Feature Writer
Special to Historic City News
You know someone, somewhere always has to begin a Christmas story with, “Yes, Virginia — there is a Santa Claus.” So consider this, that story.
But the Santa Claus in this tale looks nothing like the bearded, bespectacled, jolly, round fellow of lore. Instead, this Santa looks a lot like a sixty-something year old black woman, who rides a bike through the town of Hastings and brings her own brand of the spirit of Christmas giving, all year round.
I first met Diane many years ago and I admit, I was slightly intimidated by her and the reputation that preceded her. Tall and lean, she is soft spoken and polite, but I had always heard she was a scrapper and I am sure there is some truth to that. But she was always nice to me. Diane is one of 10 children born to farmworker parents who also grew up to work in the fields.
She lived in the family home on a tiny side-street on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Her skin is worn and her hands tell the story of many years of hard work. But Diane had another skill; she could cook. So after a while, she did just that, cooking on the camps for the crews of men who labored in the fields.
When I met her she had been hired to cook for Jewel and Roosevelt. That was the year Roosevelt put on 20 pounds. Every time I walked into their house, the aroma of fried pork chops, greens, peas and cornbread in the oven, would awaken my senses like an old friend and bring back fond memories of walking into my grandmother’s kitchen. Yes, Diane could cook.
After the fellas moved somewhere else, I would only see Diane passing by on her bike. She would wave, not really smile, but still it was sort of a friendly gesture.
And then one day some of the farmworkers were telling me about the great meal they had on a Sunday past. It was, many of them said, the only meal they had that week. When I asked about it, they told me that every Sunday a woman on “the back part of town”, cooked a big meal and everyone just showed up and ate. That cook, was of course, Diane.
I would also learn that she made sandwiches for the guys to take to work, when she had food to give and when she didn’t, she would give what was hers. Over the years, we helped Diane by giving large packs of sandwich meat, venison (which no one at the food pantry ever wanted) even 20 pounds of soup bones. Diane would take it all and turn it into a meal for five guys or 20 guys, whoever showed up at her house. It was very informal and probably as much about the social gathering as it was about the food, but the guys would hang out in the dirt yard, eat and talk; then walk away with a full belly.
Last year, Diane’s family home burned to the ground in an electrical fire. The home was uninsured and tangled up in a mess of probate snafus, so there was no chance of re-building. Diane went up the road, cooking for a crew to earn money. And then she came back, almost as though she had never left and on Thanksgiving Day, she brought three big ole’ plates of food over to John, Roosevelt and Jewel. She knew of course about John losing his foot and she wanted to make sure they all had a Thanksgiving meal, which the fellas all agreed was absolutely delicious.
So when the holidays come around I started thinking about Diane and thinking about how she is thinking about all of those souls all year long. She works quietly, in the shadows, asking for nothing, but giving so much. Pretty much everyone knows, if you need a bite to eat, go see Diane and she will give you what she has.
A while back I asked her why she did what she did. Being a woman of few words she said simply, “I know what it’s like to be hungry.”
I knew she didn’t mean hungry like, oh I missed lunch hungry. She meant hungry, as in going days without food, when your stomach literally aches from the pain of being empty and not knowing where your next meal might come from. That kind of hungry.
In a town that can often be ground zero for, “dog eat dog” behavior or as John once told me, “These folks are like crabs in a pot, they will pull each other down for the chance to get up and then nobody has nothing.”, Diane is an anomaly. Most folks don’t know what she does and if they do, they don’t much care. Many of those that have think those that don’t are right where they should be. But not Diane. I guess you might say she is one of them and although she has almost as little as they do, she still manages to give. She gets no help from anyone and yet she still manages to feed anyone who is hungry.
So I guess this story might be likened more to the story of The Good Samaritan rather than Santa Claus; because, at its core, it really is about compassion in its truest form. Diane has the habit of helping. She does it every day, without thinking, she simply responds to people in need. No big heroics, no grand gestures, just making a meal and sharing it with others. It really is just that simple.
One of my favorite quotes, “No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
The quiet power of compassion at work in Hastings. You just have to know where to look.
Letter: Thinking of all the men I knowNovember 21, 2014 Editorials
Letter: Thinking of all the men I know
This time of year always makes me pensive and this year I am thinking about all the men I have met in Hastings and all of those who have passed and all of those who continue on, some with our help, others not.
Over the years, there was Hilario, Michael Chadwick, Billy Brown, Cowboy, Dallas and Frank. Dennis and Tommy, Craig and Andy. All gone now. All forgotten now. All stuck on a shelf in an urn in storage in some funeral home. But I knew their names. I knew their faces. I knew their stories, some more than others. Ten men in the last couple of years. All farmworkers. All anonymous. All some mother’s sons.
In five years I have known more people who have died than I have in all the years I have lived. And I think of them still and I wonder, am I the only one who misses them, who knows they are not here any longer? Do their names ever come to the minds of anyone else? I think of them, often and I hope I showed them all of the kindness that I could when they were here.
And then I think of the other men I have known. Jewel and Roosevelt. They were the first. Coming to me with stories so harrowing it seemed unfathomable at the time. But how could anyone not believe Roosevelt? A gentle giant, soft spoken and sweet with a love of Andy Griffith and I love Lucy. We could talk for hours about their comedic antics on long rides to and from the safe house we put them in. But then there were the darker stories. The stories of torture and abuse. Of fear. Stories of sneaking out in the middle of the night, skinning through a hole in the fence with no shoes, only to find miles of blacktop reaching from nowhere to nowhere and a whole lot of darkness between them and freedom. Racing heartbeats at the sound of car coming up the road. Diving into ditches when the car lights got too close. Hoping against hope to get somewhere other than where they were. Only to have those hopes dashed when the henchmen found them, grabbed them by the scruff of their necks and threw them into the back of the nefarious white van. Back to where they came from to take their punishment until the next time they worked up their nerve to run.
Besides Jewel and Roosevelt, there are some other happy endings. There is John and George. There have been lots of bus tickets, Leroy, Charles, Alabama, Hector, Linda, Maurice, Mike and Yvette, Tony and John. All safely out of town, reunited with family, living better lives, we hope.
Hastings, I sure never had a clue what I was getting into. But I wouldn’t change one day. It may seem like the world’s largest Band-Aid on a problem as old as time, but one by one, we do some good. One by one, we make some real change and one by one we keep giving the one thing no one can take away: Hope.
Marion lives at the end of a dreary road inhabited by pregnant dogs, drunk men and women of ill-repute. It is a road no one goes down unless they have business and it is always no good business.
Up until a year ago, I drove down that road and parked my pie mobile right smack dab in front of the run down tin can that Marion calls home. I would bring him food, we would dance in the yard, he gave me a tour of his home with his picture of a white Jesus next to his bed.
And then one day, his captors told me to leave and not come back. Angrily screaming at me as I backed out of the driveway, literally spitting the venomous words and threats, he was so angry, I feared for Marion’s life and have not been down that road since.
By damn, they can take away hope, too.
But I will find a way to reach Marion. One day he will see my van with the flying pie and he will sneak around behind the Kangaroo and I will know to follow him and he will tell me he is okay and he will tell me the man upstairs is looking out for him and he will hold my hand and tell me he is glad I am his friend. And I will drive away to the comfort of my home and Marion will push his shopping buggy miles down the road to the place he calls, “the hole”.
And when I lay my head on my pillow that night I will be thinking about Marion, laying his head on his pillow, looking at his picture of Jesus and swatting away the roaches that call that tin can their home. I’ll be thinking I don’t want Marion to end up in an urn in the back closet of the funeral home.
So tomorrow I will get up and go to Hastings again. I’ll look for Marion. I will stop and talk to Homey and Horace. I’ll give a couple of bucks to Walking Sharon, wave at Debra and hang out behind Taing’s while the men sip their 40’s from the brown paper sacks and I will hope that tomorrow or the next day one of them will come to me and want a bus ticket home.
And then I will go back the next day and do the same thing.
Once you know, how can you not know anymore?
A column from 2011
Malea Guiriba: Gnats invading HastingsNeighbors * Hastings
Something has been on the minds of Hastonians for a couple of months now. Folks are talking about it wherever you go. If you are in town for even the shortest period of time, you know about it. It is insidious and a bit of a mystery. But I will write about it for the first time here.
Gnats. Yes, gnats. If you have spent even the slightest amount of time in the hamlet of Hastings, you know of what I write. In a totally unscientific study, based solely on a minimal amount of Internet research, I have determined these gnats to be the infamous Hippalates pusio or in layman's term the notorious Eye Gnat.
I arrived at my conclusion based on two known facts:
1. I had a conversation with my hair stylist, Jackie Baggett, and we talked about how she has to put eye masks on her horses because the gnats are drawn to their eyes and will just completely cover them.
2. The windows in the new pie mobile were not working, and they got inside and were in my eyes so bad that I was driving down 207, opening the van door at 55 miles per hour, in a desperate, but futile attempt to get them out of my car.
So I looked them up. In a study by the University of Florida department of entomology and nematology, researchers found that the eye gnat is prevalent in rural agricultural areas. The study said the pests can be very annoying to both humans and animals.
Right. They are tiny little scoundrels about 1/6 of an inch in length and as I surmised, they are especially attracted to moisture around the eyes and nose of folks when they are outside.
Tell me about it.
A couple of weekends ago, I was painting a house with some St. Johns Housing Partnership volunteers. Picture if you will, I was in tie-dye, but I still looked like I had been through the spin cycle with rotating paint brushes full of paint, all because I was constantly swatting the gnats with a loaded paint brush. I am still getting yellow and green paint out of my hair.
You can swat at them, you can spray them, you can lather yourself in Skin So Soft or Deep Woods Off, doesn't even faze them. Starting in late May or whenever the heat index kicks up, they love the warm, dry regions. You can see folks walking along Main Street with towels in their hands moving in a constant motion around the head and face trying to keep the little buggers from flying up their noses and into their mouths. Oh yes, sucking a gnat up your nose is a whole different experience.
Michelle Kiley, the children's librarian, said she thought folks were being especially friendly and her popularity was on the rise because she was constantly being waved at.
Turns out, even though Michelle is extremely popular, it was the gnats. People were walking up and down the street waving to keep the gnats away.
The UF study said the gnats are most prevalent in June through August. But that's not the worst of it. The peak period of gnatiness is in July, when the study showed, the gnat population density can reach 1 to 3 million gnats per quarter acre.
The pesky little buggers breed in decaying vegetation, soil containing lots of organic matter and of course, animal poop. They don't bite but they can carry diseases and because of their attraction to sores, cuts, secretions and orifices of man and animals, they can cause Pink Eye.
And the really bad news is, there are no control measures that are effective for long periods against the eye gnat. So my friends, for approximately the next 62 days, the eye gnat is here to stay.
And as my friend at the library, Kathy Esten, so eloquently put it, "There's gnat a darn thing you can do about it."
See you on Main Street.
Malea Guiriba is the founder and Executive Director of Pie in the Sky.