Bridging the Distance

By: Nina Lawson

“Six feet apart please, six feet apart,” I called out as I paced down a long line of food bank recipients that wrapped around the entrance.

The weekly volunteers at a pop-up food pantry in San Francisco’s Sunset District hurried to organize the distribution boxes for the line of people waiting in the fog on this chilly morning. My bright green vest glinted in the window of every passing car. I pulled colored chalk from my mesh pocket to retouch the smudged “X’s” on the damp pavement, indicating each standing marker.

Most of the people, many of them elderly Chinese, specifically Cantonese, had been waiting for several hours. Their greetings, mannerisms, and style of dress—brightly colored, thin clothing; often knit material— reminded me of my own grandparents.  Others did little exercises as they stood in place: arm swings, toe touches. Anything rewarding to fill the time.

Finally, our supervisor held up his hand to signify five minutes. Hundreds of feet shuffled back into position. Nine o’clock. Right on schedule.

Aside from the day my mom took me to GLIDE Memorial Church to provide free meals when I was ten, I had never been to a food pantry. As a teenager growing up in an affluent part of Marin County, I was sheltered. I never struggled getting my basic needs met. Where I’m from, most families head to Lake Tahoe resorts in the middle of February for “ski week” and spend their summers traveling all over. Many of my peers study abroad, benefit from academic enrichment, and enroll in costly athletics or arts programs. From the protection of this safety bubble, it’s just a fifteen-minute drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into the neighborhood where the food bank runs.

My first day on the job, five months ago, I followed everyone’s lead filling grocery bags. When a manager asked if I could be a runner, I agreed, willing to do whatever was needed. The front line was a long table topped with six food bags; my task was to quickly replace each one taken.

To be honest, I started volunteering for the community service credits. I figured I’d just do two shifts and efficiently knock them out of the way. But as the day went on, I enjoyed the work. At the end of my 4-hour shift, we’d served about 1,200 families, feeding nearly six thousand individuals. Hundreds of them had stood outside for hours. Sometimes there was no movement at all, just waiting. Some waited until noon to get food.

One morning, a small old woman hobbled up from the gate. Her hair, graying from the roots, was cut short into a bob. She wore purple leggings with a light blue, pleated sweater. Her gently wrinkled eyes lit up at my warm greeting. She could have been Nai Nai (my grandma), who was herself approaching eighty-three years old, just over five feet tall and probably weighing one hundred pounds.

“The bag is very heavy today,” I warned.

She acknowledged my words with a slight nod and began to lift it off the edge of the table. As she walked away, she gestured to acknowledge how hefty it really was and uttered a little laugh, then tottered back through the gate. I watched her cross the street and continue to trudge back up the block, clutching her bag of food until she was out of view.

How far could she walk until it became too heavy, I wondered? How far was she from home? What if she were too sick, or forgot to bring her registration card, or missed her time slot? And what would happen if the pantries ran out?

Prior to the pandemic and economic shutdown, food pantries served about one third the amount they do now.  The exponential increase is attributed to surging unemployment rates around the country. Many children, who relied on school breakfasts and lunches, were no longer in school. Furthermore, since many restaurants and hotels stopped donating, food banks—like grocery stores— have faced shortages.

Here in the Bay Area, where some of the world’s richest people live amid undistributed wealth, I’m overcome by an urge to do more. Sometimes people think their contribution means nothing, but any kind of support—giving your time or money can reach far more than you might expect. There is always another family in need. Until the problem of food insecurity is solved, it will continue on, without a foreseeable end. Don’t shy away from making your own impact.

 

Nina Lawson is 16 years old; she lives in Mill Valley, California.  When Nina is not writing she likes to paint and do oil pastel.  She is also a swimmer and plays water polo.

Here is her website -- https://www.ninasartwork.com/.

 

Image: Extremis on Pixabay



Don't Mind Me

By: Yukta Thirumalai

She took a deep breath and vaulted herself inside the barrier which was there as usual, and this time she reckoned she’d have to boost her mind's energy to get through. She concentrated hard and, after a few seconds, she could see the barrier behind her. She was inside now. It wasn’t how she’d imagined it to be.

There were scattered memories with ragged edges—this was obviously not a well-organized mind. When she tried touching one of the edges, it scraped her, making her finger bleed. The memories were huge in comparison to her, although some were smaller than others. She found a crossroads not far from where she had landed and decided to turn left. It was a bad choice. It was a small space with a bunch of memories, stacked away in the corner. Obviously, he didn’t want to be reminded of these. They had a ghostly quality, as though he had tried very hard to forget them. She hoped that in a few years, they would disappear entirely. The one in front started auto-playing, but she didn’t watch it. That was invading his privacy a bit too much. Not that she wasn’t doing that already by being in his mind. But then again, it was part of her job.

She walked back to the crossroads and turned right this time. She reached the end of the trail, a cliff. Just a cliff with a sharp drop to the bottom and nowhere to go but back. Or maybe… she walked toward it until she was standing at the very precipice. She looked down and saw some kind of ground a few feet below… it was worth a try. She jumped and landed on her knees. But, this wasn’t ground, it was more like…fuzz. Soft, fuzzy white. It felt good, although it did tickle her toes a little. She moved forward and found a small space with several memories scattered. They were all around, and she found it hard to focus on just one, but she didn’t need to. They were all very pleasant memories; she supposed these were the memories he liked replaying in his head. Sharp in focus, with vibrant colors, they bore every sign of having been lovely replayed over the years.

She climbed back up and went back the way she had come. Soon, she found a large area and stepped inside. This space was especially overwhelming. There were questions—in bold or very faded depending on how much he was thinking about them—and illustrations of all sorts, and even reminders. She noticed, out of the corner of her eye, a question; but, even as she turned to look at it, it had started fading away.  It became lighter and lighter and soon it was gone. She wondered what it was. Maybe it was one of those times when you have a word or a name on the tip of your tongue but then you forget no matter how hard you try to remember. Almost every 30 seconds a new idea or question would pop in and almost every minute an idea or question would leave because he found an answer or didn’t want to think about it anymore. “So chaotic!” she exclaimed out loud.

The space next door was a reasonably large area, although it kind of seemed like a waste since there was only one drawer in it. The place felt surprisingly warmer than the rest and she felt very eager to learn something. She opened the first drawer and realized why. This was an answer room. Any answer he got or anything he learned would be put in here. This was one of the only places in his mind which was completely organized. In fact, it felt like a library. Files were neatly arranged in the drawers according to the alphabet. She sighed. If only every other place in this mind was so neat. She felt very tempted to stay and read the files, but she knew she should head back now. He would probably be waiting for her where she had left him, impatiently drumming his hands on the table.

She retraced her steps. She could see the barrier now and got ready for the burst of energy that she knew she would need. She hoped she had saved some. She gave her mind a push and was vaulted through the barrier into her now conscious self.

“Well?” her teenage son asked.
She glared at him. “You really need to clean up your mind!”

 

Yukta Thirumalai is almost 12 and lives near Washington D.C. She loves art, writing, eating, anything soft and cuddly (pandas among them). She dislikes waking up early, hiking, and being told what to do! She dreams of becoming an author one day. In the meantime, she blogs at https://yarningforwords.wordpress.com/
 

Image by Gerd Altmann/pixabay.com