In the last several weeks we have seen in many cases the worst of humanity. Anger has poured out of Ferguson – anger in the streets of Ferguson, distrust in the handling of the situation by police and other authorities, and racial polarization.
But in every tragedy we see the spirit of humanity – its best provinces – emerge and that is the story that my Aunt, Toby Epstein, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, Missouri, tells:
Sometimes the stars are in the heavens in the proper configuration, and sometimes we are just doing holy work whether we realize it or not.
I am a walking nut. I walk five mornings a week trying to walk 9 miles before stopping. What makes this so much fun is that I walk in our neighborhood park, where everyone is friendly. Over the years, a very diverse group of women, and one dog, have joined forces walking together and becoming very good friends. We have even worked on political campaigns together.
Being a resident of St. Louis County, and some of us having African-American sons, we took the Ferguson mess very hard. We wanted to do something. So, last Monday, while walking, we decided to have a food drive on Friday. Since the park is our area and it is center of our town, we knew that we needed permission to use it for a drop off spot for the food drive.
It was sometime Tuesday morning before a meeting was held between our group and the City Manager and Police Chief. They loved the idea, and offered to let the community know via email. We knew we had only Wednesday and Thursday to get the word out. Signs were made, handouts printed and plastered on utility poles, and below stop signs. In addition, we handed a handout to every person walking in the park.
Friday came, we got to the park about 6 AM and set up, pulling over two picnic tables, and putting up a canopy to protect from the 98+ temperatures predicted. Before 7 our first donor showed up, and they never stopped.
One of our first visitors was a police officer warning us to watch out for the heat, and asking if we had enough water for ourselves. By then the bottled water was coming in, but none of us had thought about extra water for ourselves. A half an hour later, another police car shows up, pulls out a cooler filled with ice and bottled water. Alongside the cooler was another case of bottled water, with the instruction to donate the extra if we didn’t need it.
For the next five hours, car after car came and delivered more and more food to our cause. One policeman from another city brought a case of diapers, the police chief’s wife brought six bags of food she had collected in her neighborhood. Soon, both picnic tables were filled with food, and we were struggling to sort it out so the food pantry wouldn’t have to. We had been given the phone number of one of the officers, and soon a delivery of empty boxes arrived.
Another person delivering food saw our need, and ran to the local grocery store coming back with more boxes. A few people stopped their cars, asked what was needed, and then came back with what we needed. Canned meats, diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, tooth brushes, you name it, it appeared.
As it became obvious that the trunks of our cars wouldn’t even begin to hold all the food we were collecting, our town again came to the rescue. The Fire Chief and City Manager volunteered two city trucks for the delivery, and five firemen and several police officers to help load the food and give us rides to the Pantry.
One police officer said that this showed that people weren’t blaming the citizens of Ferguson for the looting. I can’t tell you the number of people who thanked us for doing the drive, and for some of them, this was said with tears in their eyes, they were so emotional about what was happening in Ferguson. We are all community, and it felt like it.
The best was yet to come. As the police and firemen joined us in sorting, we had the world’s best surprise. About 5 to 12, we see the entire 4th grade class of the local elementary school crossing the street, and in each hand was a bag of food.
As they crossed the street, the adults had tears in our eyes, and as they entered the park, the chief of police shook hands with each child. As they put their bags down, they were invited by the Fire Chief to come look at the fire engine.
This small food drive had quickly become a community activity and it felt great. As I watched the policemen and firemen interacting with our children, I knew that community policing was what they were doing. Kids have a great fake radar – if the police or firemen were putting on an act because we were there, the kids wouldn’t have reacted to them as they did.
After the trucks were packed, several of our group went with them to deliver the food. As it turns out, they went to Canfield Apts. which was ground zero for all activities. They had had to close the Pantry about a half an hour before with the shelves being bare. Now, they were able to open their doors again.
This is the great side of St. Louis, people reaching out to each other, sometimes not knowing what to do, but wanting to do something. We thought we would be happy if four or five people besides our group contributed. We kept telling each other, “It is what it is.”
But, people were looking for some way to reach out to people who were suffering, and showing them they cared. We had everyone who stopped by sign a card to give with the food. Am I proud of doing the drive, yes, but that isn’t what really moved me, the drive wasn’t a lot of work, and just a few hours. What moved me was how our community reached out, and by word of mouth, signs, and emails, came together to show people that they care. The kids, they were the cherry on the top.
Has anyone had an experience where they were blown away by the compassion of others?