Many of us have been watching the television and reading newspapers, internet reports and blog reports about the devastation that has happened and is still happening in Japan because of the earthquake and resulting tsunami.  It’s heartbreaking.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  Calls are going out everywhere for aid and relief.  One of the ways I’ve been able to not walk around my house stunned, shocked and feeling like my legs are made of jello, is to just continue on my new path, volunteering at MEND.

Last week, I posted about some of the services offered there  .  Their mission is

With dignity and respect, powered by volunteers, MEND’s mission is to break the bonds of poverty by providing basic human needs and a pathway to self-reliance.

With the economy sinking and little hope for more and better jobs to be created, the poor are facing the choice of paying rent and utility costs or buying food and clothes.  In A Hunger Study, published by the Los Angles Regional Foodbank, the statistics tell a scary story.

  • The total number of people receiving food assistance has increased by 46 percent since 2005 from 674,100 people annually to 983,400 in 2009.
  • The number of children receiving food assistance has more than doubled from 185,000 in 2005 to 393,000 children in 2009.
  • Families and individuals face difficult economic decisions when attempting to meet their basic needs as 48 percent report having to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities, 46 percent choosing between food and rent, and 42 percent between food and transportation.
  • While 37 percent of households include at least one employed adult, two-thirds of these adults are working part-time while only one-third of the adults are working full time.

Comparing the results of this survey to a similar survey conducted four years ago, we see that even though food pantries and other agencies are serving more people than ever, these agencies are also reporting the need for more food and other resources to meet the growing demand for food assistance due primarily to the high unemployment rate.  An estimated 584,300 residents of Los Angeles County are unemployed, and the current 12 percent unemployment rate has more than doubled since four years ago.

The statistics are even more startling when you consider that things have gotten worse since this data was compiled.

But, there are stories of hope out there.  There are people who care deeply about other humans.  I work with  some of those people.

There’s a man I see every day.  His name is Ed Rose.  He and some friends started MEND by distributing food and clothing from his garage.  Then, the grew to three garages.  Then, they rented a small storefront and today they help an expanded version of their efforts in a large, beautiful facility, pictured in this http://www.mendpoverty.org/video.html

Sometimes a crisis will bring out the better angels of our nature.  (Thank you Abraham Lincoln, for those words.)  The Foodbank Director, Richard Weinroth and the Assistant Director , Luke Ippoliti met in New Orleans when they each went there to help out after Katrina hit.  Richard, who is a gourment chef who owned his own restaurant, said that he decided to take a different path in his life after that experience.  He came home, sold his business and now spends his time and efforts helping people in need.  He does an amazing job, networking with other foodbanks, sharing and trading the supplies we have with other agencies.  One minute he’s in the kitchen creating a sauce out of rootbeer, blueberries, tomato paste and basil for the chicken that is to be served for lunch.  Ten minutes later, he’s on the fork lift bringing down a pallat of canned peaches to put in the food boxes.  Then, he’s off to drive the truck to another foodbank to trade some of the extra produce we have for extra boxes of sliced bread and french fries that they have.  He’s one of the nicest, most approachable people I’ve ever met.  Always ready to answer a question, give advice or just make some one feel better.    No grass growing under his feet.

Working on the bread line, I have the opportunity to talk to people face to face.  I met a man this week named Rudy.  When I said good morning and asked him how he was doing, he told me.  He said that his life had turned around a bit, he had found a job, but then he got sick, again, and lost it.  As he told me that it was his daughter’s birthday, he started to cry.  Big tears were streaming down his cheeks.  This tall, once self sufficient man was devastated that he could not provide a party for his daughter.  As the tears kept coming, I wiped his cheeks with my hands and told him that he was not alone.  That many people are feeling desperate and depressed these days.  He kept crying and I kept wiping.  Then, he said something that surprised me.  He told me that no one had ever wiped his tears before.  Imagine.  Then, I made sure he had some really good loaves of bread and told him to go to the front desk to get a ticket for one of the large sheet cakes we provide to people who are planning something special.

I ran into him in the parking lot later, as I was leaving.  He was feeling better.  He had his cake. And the food distribution boxes  included large bags of chicken that day.  He was so excited to have chicken!  I told him, Poppy, you are the man.  You go home and barbeque that chicken up and put that cake in the middle of the table and, you have a party!  His regret at that point was that he didn’t have a presents for his 20 year old.  I just happened to have the three books of the Girl With The Dragon Tatoo series in a bag in my car, so I gave them to him.  They were books I actually purchased new at a store, not the thrift store, so they were in good shape.  He gave me a big, long hug and then  took off to go home to clean, wrap and prepare for a great day .   Sometimes we can help each other in small ways.

Meanwhile, there are many who don’t have a home to go to and make a party at.  But, we can only put one foot in front of the other.  One day at a time.

Keep the faith, people.  Do what you can, when you can, where you can, as often as you can.