Jeff and I were both incredibly lucky in our careers. We hit things at the right times, with the right interests and expertise, in the right city (Seattle), and we profited handsomely from it. We always knew this and we´ve been grateful. Our initial foray into being Foster Parents was because we could. We knew we had something to share. And we wanted our children to be grateful for the lifestyle we all enjoyed, which came with the trappings that neither Jeff nor myself could have dreamed of as children. But, at times, it worried me. Would my kids become entitled or selfish? Would they wonder what other people worried about, if they didn´t get the latest toy or go on a fancy holiday to an exciting locale? Would they develop empathy?
I decided that we needed to expose them to how people lived who were at the other end of the economic scale. And not just serving Thanksgiving dinner in a soup kitchen once a year (although that´s a good thing, too.) We went to the local tent city encampment on multiple occasions and made meals and served them. But when there I encouraged my kids to sit down and talk to people, asking them questions about their lives, hearing their stories, and sharing theirs’s too. Emilie and I spent time at a food pantry in Pioneer Square organizing and distributing food to the homeless. And also for families who were living on the verge of homelessness. Seattle´s homeless problem is out of control. Last time we were there tents lined the sidewalks every evening. In a city with so much tech money it´s horrible to think there isn´t a solution to the vast divide between the richest people in the world living there (Gates and Bezos), and the poorest of the poor. Emilie likes to organize things so that food pantry didn´t know what hit them as she inventoried and then categorized food for easy distribution.
The Director was blown away. ´How old is she? ´she asked me.
´She´s 12. ´ I told her. ´But Emilie was born to organize chaos. It´s her superpower. ´
She laughed. ´Can she come to my house?´
My kids loved it when we would do these things. It made them feel good while they were helping other human beings. Connected to the community. And it gave them perspective on their own lives. Everyone needs perspective.
Since we´ve lived in Valencia we haven´t been involved in much charitable work. I´ll admit that the language barrier has intimidated me a bit. There is a good social safety net in Spain. But this year it´s been stretched to the breaking point and walking down to the Centro Commercial (mall) today to get groceries – yes, our elevator is finally repaired – we saw homeless people asleep on benches near the tram. This is the first time. Sure, you see a few people in the park periodically, but nothing like you see in the US. It made me stop and think. Yes, it´s been a tough year, both personally and globally. But we´re here. We´re alive and we´re getting healthy, and we have the means to recover. Many people do not. More and more people across the world will not.
Before our elevator broke, Jeff had gone to the Mercadona and there was an organization at the entrance asking for donations for a local charity who is trying to soften the impacts of food shortages in the local community. They handed him this flyer and he agreed to go in and purchase a few additional items along with our groceries. He said they were very surprised when he picked up everything on the list and promptly dropped it off at their collection station. He had the food trolley, so 5 kilos of rice wasn´t such a strain. He came home disturbed and wanted to go back and donate more, but it was too late and the store was closed.
Today, we came home with our groceries and looked at our box of things from El Corte Ingles in the kitchen. And then I reached out to an organization here in Valencia who feeds the poorest of the poor. These are populations living in abandoned buildings or shanty towns. You can see them when you take the train out of Valencia, as they’re often along the tracks. No running water or heat. People living outside of the social system who are not entitled to the ERTE (unemployment) or other assistance – perhaps because of their immigration status, or perhaps addictions issues. But the folks at Fundacion Ayuda Una Familia don´t care about that. They just feed people every week of the year. And they´re responsive – getting back to me right away with a hearty ´Yes! We are happy to take the Iberian Ham leg and cured meats off your hands.´ So Jeff and I will be making a drive out there to drop off the box and some other things we´ve picked up. If you’re local to Valencia you might click on the link to learn more about them.
This year, more than any I can remember, I appreciate what we have and recognize that we need to share it more than ever before. The world is hurting- not just from the virus but it´s wake. It will leave a long tail behind it that will have lasting consequences in people´s lives for years to come. Our neighbours in our building can have the wine and booze from the box. The rest will go to people who are truly hungry. Maybe the way to heal ourselves this year is to help heal each other. Here in el Compartimento we´re determined it will start with us.