Being poor is not easy in the winter in Milwaukee. Getting around is difficult. You can’t ride your bike. The sidewalks are treacherous or impassable. Cars don’t start (at least, the old ones don’t.) Buses are unreliable. When you have to wait in the cold, shivering, it is a constant reminder that you are poor. The sky is usually grey and a lot of the time, it’s also dark. You spend more time trying to get around, and less time taking care of your needs. This is a time when a lot of folks are struggling.
Last week I was visiting my family and stopped by to visit Friedens Pantry at the Marcia Coggs Service Center. I have known and supported Friedens since 2005. An old family friend used to be very active there. The pantry welcomes clients during weekday hours. Clients can also apply for food stamps and other benefits in the same building. Friedens is a valuable service in a poor community in one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in North America: Milwaukee, WI.
It felt good to volunteer. The staff I met – Sophie, Dan and Catherine – were gracious and humble. They were friendly and helpful to all the guests, no matter what condition or mood they were in.
I talked for a bit with Terrell. He is a client at Friedens. I don’t know for how long he’s been going, nor what drove him to seek help in the first place. He lives with his mother and 2 daughters in a small apartment not far from the pantry. Terrell was so grateful for the food that he received. I helped deliver canned soup, canned fruit, canned veggies. Some bits of fresh produce. Dried re-warmable stuffing from Thanksgiving (which actually is probably very tasty), canned cranberries, frozen cherries, seafood soup stock, and a small crate of chocolate. There was a lot of good nutrition in that food. The client was allowed to choose his food. Whole Foods it is not. However, Terrell was more sincerely thankful for that food he received from Friedens than I have been for anything I’ve received in a long, long while. He was so gracious for the little time I spent helping him. What an experience.
I drove around the neighborhood a bit while I was helping deliver Terrell and his food to his home. I remembered driving through the area while I lived on Milwaukee’s west side back in the late 90s. The neighborhood has still not changed much. It is still poor, and a mixture of old, struggling businesses, old homes that haven’t seen much upkeep in 50 years, sporadic evidence of government spending (the social services agency where Friedens is located, a police station, and a new jobs development center built on North Ave.) There are lots of vacant lots and lots of derelict buildings. It is a place where hope is hard to come by, but people still do have hopes. I think Friedens helps bring that hope to people.
If you talk to clients at Friedens, they are usually quick to smile. I feel like they are grateful for anyone who listens or cares. I know these folks are struggling, but they don’t begrudge me for my comfortable life, and they are automatically kind to me. And that’s a wonderful thing. If we could all be so gracious, the world would certainly be a better place.
Thank you, Friedens!