Sunday, November 29, 2009

la mujer en el apron verde

Tienes identificacion, por favor?
Idalys handed me a card, and it wasn’t a license or a passport. I tried to disguise my excitement as I handled her proof of permission to legally reside in the U.S.  I thought it was a euphemism, or some kind of legend that had evolved over the ages. But last Saturday I came to realize that green cards really are green.
Idalys was from Tijuana, Mexico, the card told me. I quickly punched in her numbers into the computer, confirmed that she was indeed registered for her free Thanksgiving meal, and sent her to the lady in the green apron.
Except that I don’t know the word for apron in Spanish.
Idalys was one of thousands of homeless or lower-income families in the Tampa Bay area that would receive food from Metropolitan Ministries this holiday season. And I was one of hundreds of volunteers who would help the well-oiled machine of goodwill to do its thing.
Marcel told me he hadn’t eaten in two days.
Jeanette, with her platinum blonde hair and well-groomed nails, asked me how old I thought she was. I skirted around the question with flattering clichés.
61. Don’t I look good for 61?
I got to hear all about Jeanette’s weight-loss journey, philosophies on diet and exercise, and how to take a good license photo.
Louis, a tall, athletic-looking father, approached my station with his children and wife in tow. He handed me his registration form and his ID. I punched in Louis’ number and asked him whether they wanted chicken or turkey. I punched in Laquanda’s number and tried to make eye contact with her. With eyes diverted, she may have eked out a smile from the left corner of her mouth.  Still not sure about that.  I punched in the numbers of the two boys, asked their grades and we talked about 3rd grade.
You’ve got FCAT coming up. You reading, right?
Yes, ma’am, Javonne politely replied.
And then that was it. Just four numbers. Louis, Laquanda, Javonne, Demetrius.  But what about the stroller? And the little girl on Laquanda’s hip?
Louis, are those your children also?
Yes, ma’am.
Louis explained to me that he couldn’t find their socials when he was registering his family for the Thanksgiving meal. So, without social security cards, they don’t count. I excused myself for a minute (masking one’s shock became a much-needed skill) to check with the volunteer supervisor. Was this truly the case?
I had a hard time when I returned to my station, wanting to apologize to Louis, but not wanting to paint this generous ministry as Uncle Scrooge. I thought back to my days teaching in the ghetto. My training with Ruby Payne told me how hard it was for those in the culture of poverty to adhere to middle-class codes of paper.
Louis graciously smiled and assured me he understood when I confirmed that we “couldn’t do anything” without his daughters’ socials. And then I sent Louis with his two official and two unofficial children on their way to the lady in the green apron.
Tabitha’s curly bobbed head barely made it over the work space of my station. When I looked up from the computer to greet her, I noticed a few tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. I set down her registration sheet and ID, and walked around the station to be near her. Nothing like comforting someone when there’s a splintery piece of plywood between the two of you.
I just get emotional about these things, Tabitha told me.
Well, do you need to talk to someone? Should I get someone for you?
No, I’m fine, she protested.
Tabitha blubbered something about a lady she just met in line that had battled cancer and was in remission. Something about her new friend’s courage. And to be honest, I was a little puzzled. I couldn’t figure exactly why Tabitha was emotional. I began punching in her numbers, having determined that she was Okay. Right about when I was supposed to usher her towards the green apron, Lady in Remission passed my station. Her frail frame was draped with a floral print dress.  Another flower laden scarf was piled atop her head. She seemed to move in slow motion, but any discomfort was disguised by a flowy-like gracefulness.  She embraced Tabitha as if they were childhood friends and thanked her for her help.
And off went the two. Both in need. And yet not too consumed with self to be unmoved by the other.
I just get emotional about these things.

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