There are so many GiVe experiences that have touched my heart. Here’s one. It was my month to choose our recipient, and I picked an elementary school where I had been asked to read to the children a few months before. (I had gone there with my mom, who had dementia, and I was assigned to read aloud to fifth graders. I read with great animation, and they looked at me with fifth grade blankness, but my mom cheered and clapped and said to the students near her, “Well, isn’t she wonderful?”)
The school is located a few blocks from an old highway that runs through town. It’s a desolate area. The houses are cinder block squares on patches of dirt; nobody has enough money to water a lawn, and the neon signs advertising “Gentlemen’s Clubs” and “Live Nudes” take the place of nighttime stars.
I called the principal of the school to ask her if there were any particular project she would like us to support, and to tell her that I had 12 women available for a few hours if there was anything she’d like us to do. Her proposal was novel. Could she use the $600 to cater lunch for her whole staff, and would the 12 of us manage the students’ lunch and recess so they could all eat together?
Of course, we said yes.
And it was wild. We are twelve competent women, but they were 600 hungry, excited kids – and it was our job to see they all got a lunch, that milk jugs were open and plastic wrap peeled, that something got eaten, that trash got tossed; that everyone made it to the playground, that the games were played fairly, that nobody ran away, that scrapes were bandaged and tears dried and first trips across the jungle gym celebrated. Also, every single child had to make it back to class on time.
I have a lot of memories of that day, but one of them is just what a low-income lunch looks like. There was white bread and tater tots and a slice of American cheese on a cream-colored plastic tray, with a thin white napkin and a carton of milk. It looked terrible and tasted worse, and almost none of the children ate any of it. Every uneaten lunch created a small mountain of plastic trash, which we shoved into huge garbage cans that spilled over onto the floor. There wasn’t time to think about it; we raced outside so the kids could play.
And this may sound funny, but I’m so grateful for that crazy hour in an elementary school lunchroom in a certain kind of neighborhood. As if I were the Grinch, my heart grew a bit that day.
Laura McBride 10/19/16
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