World Central Kitchen and generosity; the flip of ugliness

The pace of a busy commercial kitchen is thrilling. Add to it a shared sense of purpose, compassion, generosity, and smiles, and you’ve got José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen pop-up on Pennsylvania Avenue, here in DC. I arrived just before 8am yesterday morning, donned a WCK hat, and was put to work stripping mint leaves from stems in the rear of the kitchen. Chef Elsa, a volunteer from Lake Tahoe who was overseeing the dip, sauce, and sandwich station where I worked, was all smiles and all business. The requisite black chef pants, a few tattoos, a knit cap. I loved her completely and immediately.

Other volunteers arrived as eager to work as I was, and we quickly slipped into a rhythm. Amanda must have sliced 2,000 fresh rolls, Kay plucked anything brown from fresh lettuce leaves before laying them in orderly fashion on sheet pans, Kristin diced tomatoes and added them to the tzatziki. I delivered the enormous mountain of mint to the guy making aioli with an industrial-sized immersion blender, stirred four vats of the tzatziki with a paddle so large you could have rowed a boat with it, and then moved into sandwich prep. We were in and out of the walk-in. Someone brought around homemade cinnamon rolls.

By 10:45, we heard a line had formed out front. The doors opened at 11, and we were off to the races. At one point, Elsa moved me up to the front line to bag warm steak sandwiches as quickly as the meat guy could get steak from the grill and lay it generously atop the aioli, lettuce, and tomato-prepped rolls we’d just made in the back. Kay squeezed them shut, I took them firmly and gingerly nestled them in the bag.

“Sandwiches, sandwiches! We need more sandwiches!”

We struggled to keep up. Next to me, Hillary scooped steaming quinoa into boxes and drizzled it with meyer lemon sauce before letting the falafel guy add to it.

“Fire soup, fire soup!”

Everyone was smiling, thankful -to give and receive- and so very kind. Many of the volunteers were furloughed workers themselves; Hillary hasn’t been at work or paid since before Christmas. A single mother of three asked if she could have extra food for her children. Of course.

the line out front of WCK; it went around the block.

the line out front of WCK; it went around the block.

It was cold outside, and the line snaked around the block (see above photo). One incredible DCer, set to retire next week, brought $640 (what she had in her wallet + what she could withdraw from the ATM) to the line and started handing out $20s. Many people just asked for a hug. She said, ““These are people that I owe a debt to because they’re doing a job on my behalf and they’re not being paid…At the core of it I’m a human being and I live here. I know how hard it is to get back up the economic ladder. We’re pushing people out of their economic social status as we speak. And it’s not going to take a week or two for them to recover.”

WCK served 4,400 meals on Wednesday, 5,568 or something on Thursday, and I later found that we did more than 6,400. I’m sure today was no different. Chef Andrés has just announced that #ChefsForFeds will be expanding across the nation to help feed our citizens until the shutdown is over. If you can donate or want to help, visit https://www.worldcentralkitchen.org/

Yesterday in DC was also the March for Life. During it, in my opinion, we saw some of the ugliest and most exclusivist of humanity. Concurrently, the Indigenous People’s March peacefully protested environmental degradation, genocide, and violence against Native women. My heart was wrecked and my fury was orbital to find teenage boys, led by fellow student Nick Sandmann, from Covington Catholic school in Kentucky mob and ridicule a Native elder (himself a Vietnam vet who  holds a regular ceremony for Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery ). The boys, March for Life participants, were wearing red Make America Great Hats, in case you haven’t seen their heinous behavior (video in the attached link), grinning with such ugly, evil, disdain and cheering each other on that I actually feel sick each time I see the footage. Here is Nathan Philips’, the elder, response.

It also emerged today that a recent Covington Catholic grad this past weekend held a woman down, choked and ignored her pleas to stop, and raped her until she bled. He has been charged with one count of rape and two counts of sodomy. This was not his first sexual assault offense.

I struggle to hope for the future if kids like these are part of the youth coming up. They are disgusting bigots, examples of toxic masculinity and entitlement, the worst sort of smug “Christians” who fancy themselves Christ-like but are everything but. Think Brett Kavanaugh! Who must their parents be? Why didn’t the school chaperones, who were at the March too, do something? Should you wish to reach out to Covington Catholic School, its phone number is 859-491-2247. Its address is 1600 Dixie Highway, Park Hills, KY, 41011. The principal’s email is browe@covcath.org, and the superintendent of the district, who was a trip chaperone, is Mike Clines. On Twitter he is @supmikeclines.

I will try to focus on people like Chef Andrés, on the volunteers who came from all over to help, on the woman who handed out $20s and hugs, on all the Facebook friends -some of whom I’ve never even met IRL- who donated to World Central Kitchen since I shared my experience there yesterday. I will hope that there are more fine young people than awful, cruel ones. I will celebrate the good in the world, including all the amazing people who marched today, and hope that we can vanquish trump and his grotesque divisiveness and craven mean-spiritedness before our democracy crumbles. It’s hard to stay hopeful sometimes.

The shutdown, and kindness

This past weekend brought us DC’s most substantial snowfall in years. We got nearly a foot, and it was so beautiful and such fun. I made it to the Open Discussion Project meeting but on my way home, things were getting dicey. Monday was a snow day and the boys delighted in hours of sledding and snowball fights and hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, the Trump shutdown continues; it’s now, on day 26, the longest in history. Federal workers received paychecks for $0.00 last week. Can you imagine the gall of pulling the rug from people suddenly, not paying them, and then reminding them of that by paying to send zero balance check stubs? Furloughed people are pawning jewelry and other belongs, selling their kids’ toys and household items, and being sent notices of pending eviction. They are responsible for nothing and everything while McConnell is hiding, Graham sounds rabid, and Trump is feeding young athletic champions lukewarm fast food.

I am so deeply ashamed and furious beyond compare.

Although I’m not a believer, I adhere completely to the tenet that we are each other’s keepers. One of Quakerism’s main pillars is that of community stewardship. Actually, community and stewardship are distinct Quaker values but if you tend and nurture community, you are a steward of it, so I’m going with the compound right now. For the past eight-and-a-half years, I have been a part of a Quaker community because my sons attend a Friends school. I feel gratitude pretty much daily for this gift, imperfect as it sometimes is. Communal stewardship seems especially crucial right now, and what’s keeping me heartened right now is just how much of it I’m seeing around here.

José Andrés, the chef and restaurateur and World Central Kitchen head who has been feeding Puerto Rico since Maria slammed it, has just opened a WCK in downtown DC. #ChefsForFeds gave out 4,400 gorgeous, free meals today -double what they anticipated- and will be open from 11a-6p until the shutdown ends. I am volunteering in their kitchen on Friday and cannot wait to serve. If you’re local and would like to try and snag a shift, you can do that here. If you aren’t in the area, but would like to support Chef Andrés’ work, please donate to WCK.

The veterinary group that saved Nutmeg after he was hit last year, Friendship Hospital for Animals, is waiving emergency exam fees and offering deferred/extended payment options for furloughed Federal employees. Local bookstores, salons, wellness centers, and restaurants are offering discounts to furloughed workers, and folks in need of diabetic supplies can message @Alt US Press Secty on Twitter.

A dear friend in Minnesota’s twin cities area works for a homeless youth organization. Many of the people it serves need access to WIC -the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children- to help feed their families. Due to the shutdown however, WIC is closed, and neither taking new clients nor able to provide benefits to those on their rolls. My friend set up an amazon wishlist for baby formula to meet her organization’s interim needs, spread the word on social media, and by this evening, she had what she needed.

Earlier today, a friend was near the National Zoo waiting for her daughter to finish an appointment. The Zoo is closed because of the shutdown, but my friend saw caretakers heading in to feed animals and clean their habitats. They aren’t getting paid. It was really cold today, so my friend walked into a tiny shop, Baked by Yael, to get a coffee. I’d like to share this exchange she overheard between Yael and a man who seemed to be a higher-up at the zoo.

He said, “I heard about how generous you have been with our employees and I came to thank you. Some of our younger employees can’t afford to feed their families and you have saved them.” The owner replied, “of course, I can’t imagine not helping them; we were lucky to get donations so now we are able to give them not only free pastries but free soups and sandwiches too.”

Amidst a temper tantrum of epic proportion by people elected to serve us, regular folks are stepping up to ease hardship and keep the wheels on the bus. It is so moving but also so worrisome and sad. Please, in any way you can, be and do good. This isn’t just a DC issue. 800,000 federal works didn’t get paychecks last week. They live all across this country and come from all backgrounds. They are members of the coast guard and the TSA, they are caretakers of our national parks and the wildlife and safety features within, they work for the IRS, they run shelters for victims of domestic violence. This shutdown hurts all of us, especially those who aren’t being paid.

This coming Monday is the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. If your area is anything like mine, service opportunities will be aplenty. Find a place to get involved- the boys and I are going to the service day at school; one friend is hosting a sandwich-making party at her house for an area shelter.

Be kind, give in all ways you can, hold your representatives accountable, and please, for the love of everything, vote the bad people out.

Thoughts and musings and miscellany

I met with a student this morning; seeing her always makes me happy. All of my students do. I love teenagers that aren’t mine. I say that without knowing of course, being that my boys are not yet teens. But if moods are an indicator, and if moods get worse as teen years advance and if all my friends relay accurate information, well, then, I maintain that I love spending time with teenagers that aren’t mine.

In any case, I am so grateful that I took the plunge and started Elucido. Through it I’ve met some really wonderful people, and it feels enormously good and fulfilling to do something beyond parenting. Something that utilizes my education and skills in a broader way; something through which I earn money; something through which I enlarge my community and can give back.

Earlier today, this popped up in my Facebook feed, a memory from three years ago:

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Stunning, isn’t it. Thank you, Roger Cohen. (This was in one of his columns in the New York Times.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately- those we are born into, grow up with and in, choose, make, opt out of and away from. Those we participate in directly and indirectly, in real life and online. I feel lucky to be part of many communities. Through them and in them I feel tethered to life and the world. I feel a duty to them. Not in a drafted, forcible sense, but in a compassionate obligatory way. I think that’s what holds society together. It’s stewardship. Connection. Loving thy neighbor, if you will.

I see this sort of intermutual care in so many of my communities. Meal Trains, a call for cards to a recently separated friend, acts of goodness in honor of a child gone too soon, candles lit by agnostics in houses of worship on behalf of believers in need, neighbors driving neighbors to the train, people boosting each other up left and right, from near and far.

We need this love, more of it. We need it for the people we know who are scared or hurting, who are sick or divorcing, burying a child or having one. We need it for elders who live alone, for neighbors who lose beloved pets, for those who are stressed about finances, for those who struggle with mental unhealth and benefit from stigma not at all. We need it for our brothers and sisters of any sexual orientation or religious belief or cultural heritage.

And yet for all of this beauty I do witness, I am equally struck by the appalling intolerance and bigotry and outright celebration of lies that is as pronounced. Where compassion knits people together, ugliness rips the threads that bind. Why do so many still opt for the latter?

I am deeply sorry for all who hurt. But for the life of me I cannot figure out where lying and making lynching jokes (Cindy Hyde-Smith) and cheating to win (Brian Kemp as one of many examples) and extolling Christian virtues while excusing the complete abdication of them in your leaders gets us. I know this sounds naive. But the bar for decency seems to be getting lower and lower. Or maybe it’s a divide between what constitutes decency? What decency is worth?

I read this excellent article this morning and urge you to do the same. “Why Is Being Held Accountable So Terrifying Under Patriarchy?” Is it about accountability? About white male dominance? Is it simply about being right and wanting what you want?

Can we, instead of rightness and winning, seek diligence and discipline? Can we seek to honor truth and effectiveness, discarding falsehoods of all kinds? Can we make the gestures? Can we perhaps look to connection and tolerance, rather than walls and guns, as ways to keep bad things, bad luck as Cohen may have called it, at bay?